Finding Local Stories Via State Safe Drinking Water Fund

October 10, 2017

TipSheet: Finding Stories Via State Drinking Water Fund

Just ask Flint, Mich., residents, whose children were poisoned by lead from an aging, underfunded drinking water system — safe drinking water matters.

And the federal government, blamed by seemingly all politicians, actually is doing something about it via the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, or DWSRF.

For environmental journalists, that means we can find stories in many communities by following the money that helps upgrade local drinking water systems.

Water treatment plant
Water treatment plant. Photo: U.S. EPA/Eric Vance 

Here’s how the DWSRF works: Federal money goes to the states, which add matching funds and loan it to local drinking water utilities to extend pipes and build better treatment plants. Local utilities have to pay it back, usually with money collected from rate-paying customers. Then the money can be used again to help another local utility.

Some good news for communities is that federal funding for the DWSRF is unlikely to go down much, even under an EPA-slashing Trump administration and a spending-averse GOP-dominated Congress.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposed about as much for the DWSRF (and its companion Clean Water State Revolving Fund) as was appropriated in 2017. The House Appropriations Committee did not cut that (though DWSRF funds are lumped in with other grants to states). The money is divided by formula among the states, and if it were cut, 50 states would be angry.

Scour project lists for local stories

Wherever you live, the local communities struggling to provide safer water have individual stories, whether of hardship, health concerns or municipal success.

To find those stories, you need a list of DWSRF projects. You can usually find them in the state’s DWSRF Intended Use Plan, or IUP, which it is required to maintain.

Here they are for each state:

You can get more perspective on the DWSRF from the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. The big-city viewpoint comes from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. One environmental group that has successfully engaged with drinking water issues for a long time is the Natural Resources Defense Council.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 2, No. 38. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main pageSubscribe to the e-newsletter here.  And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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