Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated Earth Day by announcing support for projects to improve rural water and wastewater services, promote renewable energy, and promote the efficient use of energy resources.
"I am proud to announce that USDA is providing more than $112 million in loans and grants to help rural communities build and upgrade their water and energy infrastructure systems," said Vilsack. "Not only do projects such as these help ensure communities have access to clean water and affordable energy, they also create jobs and boost the economy."
USDA is providing the funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects through Rural Development's Water and Environmental Program (WEP).
The City of Crete, Neb., for example, has been selected for an $11.7 million WEP loan and a $1.7 million WEP grant to replace its wastewater treatment facility. It was built in 1974 and is unable meet Clean Water Act ammonia limits. The project is expected to be completed in 2016 and benefit all of the town's 6,028 residents.
Under Secretary Lisa Mensah visited an Earth Day project in Henderson, Md., on the state's Eastern Shore. The town is receiving a $175,000 grant to make emergency repairs to its water system. A combination of unusually cold temperatures in February and high demand caused the aging system to fail – leaving the town's 146 residents temporarily without water. A temporary solution is keeping the wells in operation, but significant repairs to the water supply system are needed to ensure a continued water supply.
In Missouri, Rural Development awarded a $1.6 million loan to help the city of Holts Summit build a regional pump station at its wastewater treatment facility. This will extend the collection system to five areas within city limits that lack sewer service.
Vilsack noted that this year's Earth Day celebrations also highlight the role of renewable energy systems in maintaining environmental quality. Twenty-five organizations have been selected for energy audit and renewable energy development assistance grants through USDA's popular Rural Energy for America Program. The grants support programs to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses evaluate energy efficiency systems and determine the most effective and affordable method of incorporating renewable energy technologies into their operations. Eligible recipients are government bodies, utilities and institutions of higher education.
In all, USDA is funding 37 water and wastewater projects and 25 renewable energy projects totaling more than $112 million.
View the list of recipients. Funding for each project is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan, grant, or loan/grant agreement.
Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about what individuals can do to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment. Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has greatly expanded. Today, citizens and governments in more than 195 countries participate in Earth Day events.
President Obama's historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.