Shaheen & Tillis Introduce Legislation to Provide Emergency Funding to Repair, Modernize & Renovate Struggling Rural Water Systems

September 25, 2020

 **An estimated 30% of rural water systems are in danger of failing within six months under current financial conditions**

**The Emergency Support for Rural Water Systems Act would provide $1 billion in emergency grants, low- & zero-interest loans & loan forgiveness for struggling small and rural water and wastewater systems across the country**

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide rural communities that are under significant financial strain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency assistance to repair, modernize and renovate failing water infrastructure. The Emergency Support for Rural Water Systems Act would provide $1 billion in emergency grants, low- and zero-interest loans and loan forgiveness for struggling small and rural water and wastewater systems across the nation.

Small rural water and wastewater systems are facing expected losses of at least $3.6 billion this year. In addition, more than 80% of small water systems in New Hampshire report decreased revenues since the pandemic, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). As the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, it is estimated 30 percent of systems cannot last more than six months under current financial conditions. The Emergency Support for Rural Water Systems Act would allow rural communities to make necessary improvements and repairs to critical water infrastructure and ensure residents of these rural communities continue to have access to clean drinking water and wastewater treatment services.

“Water infrastructure is essential to safeguarding public health and promoting economic development in our communities. Rural communities that were already financially struggling before this pandemic are now facing massive revenue shortfalls that jeopardize their ability to maintain local infrastructure like water systems, risking costly damage and service disruptions that threaten the health and well-being of local residents,” said Senator Shaheen. “My bipartisan legislation would provide emergency funding our rural communities need to repair their water infrastructure and continue to provide essential services to Granite State families.”

“Rural water and wastewater systems in North Carolina and across the county are in dire financial situations due to COVID-19,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to co-introduce this bipartisan legislation to provide relief so our rural communities continue to receive clean drinking water.”

“The Rural Community Assistance Partnership praises Senators Shaheen and Tillis for their introduction of the Emergency Assistance for Rural Water systems Act, establishing an emergency grant and loan program for small water and wastewater systems,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “When RCAP surveyed small rural and tribal water and wastewater systems we have worked with across the country, we heard very clearly that there was a tremendous amount of assistance needed. We were able to estimate the revenue loss due to the financial impact of COVID-19 across the country for systems serving 10,000 or less in population to be at least $3.6 billion. Not only were rural and tribal water and wastewater systems losing revenue at alarming rates, there was no mechanism for them to make up that revenue loss as federal assistance is focused on new infrastructure projects, not a loss in operating and maintenance costs. This Act can mitigate some of the current and potential damages seen to rural communities' most valuable resource: water.”

Jennifer Palmiotto, Executive Director from Granite State Rural Water Association applauds Senator Shaheen for co-sponsoring the Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act. According to Dr. Palmiotto, "Many water and wastewater utilities across the country as well as here in New Hampshire are facing financial hardship because of the pandemic. New Hampshire utilities have expressed their concern to Senator Shaheen and she has listened and taken action. This legislation represents an opportunity to assist utilities across the country, thereby preventing any lapse of service due to financial challenges.”

“Small and rural utilities have reduced economies of scale and often have less financial resources and capacity than their urban counterparts to absorb revenue loss and maintain operations and affordable rates,”  stated Matt Holmes, National Rural Water Association CEO.  “It is also important to note that the water sector has been declared a top health priority by the federal government, with their workers designated as essential employees. Many of our State Rural Water Associations have provided staff to maintain the daily operations of these impacted utilities where the  employees were unable to perform their duties because they were sick or quarantined.  It is equally important that legislation to improve the financial sustainability of these impacted utilities receives similar recognition and support from Congress and Senator Shaheen’s legislation accomplishes that goal.  

“The end user is the focus, and this legislation will further ensure that that customer, especially the more vulnerable elderly and disabled residents, will continue to have uninterrupted and affordable clean water and waste water services now and into the future. Our industry stands with Senator Shaheen and others on this first line of defense to ensure rural families have all the essential services and tools necessary to effectively combat this virus. On behalf of the small and rural water and waste water utilities across rural America, we thank Senator Shaheen for her leadership and efforts,” continued Matt Holmes.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.