WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2014 — A joint initiative between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to improve access to clean water and wastewater infrastructure for U.S. communities along the Mexico border. This initiative is part of the organizations’ ongoing partnership to increase the sustainability of rural drinking water and wastewater systems.
Many border communities lack the funds to build or rebuild their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Failing wastewater systems can significantly harm the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, streams and rivers, and forcing raw sewage to back up into homes. Likewise, failing and inadequate water systems can harm community health by increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as salmonella and hepatitis A as well as gastrointestinal diseases.
USDA and EPA have conducted an initial needs assessment for water and wastewater infrastructure in the border region. The findings are published in the U.S. [FJ-RWD1] Mexico Border Scoping Assessment Phase 1 Report. The report identified communities in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas that require improved water infrastructure and/or face environmental and/or public health risks associated with inadequate or failing water infrastructure systems.
USDA plans to award up to $500,000 through Rural Development’s Technical Assistance and Training Grant program to a private, non-profit group for an in-depth priority assessment of the counties identified in the report. The assessment will include recommendations on the best way to deliver technical assistance. USDA anticipates that this analysis will be completed in late 2014. Further, based on this analysis, USDA and EPA will target technical assistance to the neediest communities and establish partnerships to provide or improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
Through this effort, USDA and EPA are helping rural communities implement strategies and tools to protect public health, improve water quality and create sustainable communities. This partnership has produced tools such as the Rural and Small Systems Guidebook to Sustainable Utility Management. It provides a step-by-step guide for sustainable operation and management of small water and wastewater systems. The partnership has also produced the Workshop in a Box manual, which provides materials to technical assistance providers who would like to market and conduct workshops based on the guidebook.
USDA has invested more than $125 million in water and waste projects in colonias since the start of the Obama Administration. The Department’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative is utilizing the full array of resources in the poorest parts of rural America, including the colonias along the border. Colonias are small, rural communities along the border, some in federally-recognized Native American tribal areas, that have not had regular access to water and modern sanitation systems because that type of infrastructure was not required to be installed at the time the properties were sold and their houses built.