REDDING, Calif. — Rural communities struggling with failing wells, poor water quality and other drought-related problems have lots of opportunities to pay for new projects, agency representatives told local officials during a meeting here.
The State Water Resources Control Board and six other state and federal agencies are urging local leaders to seek grants and loans for projects related to drinking water, wastewater, water quality, water supply, energy and water use efficiency and flood control.
About 40 rural officials gathered in a library meeting room on July 26 to hear presentations from agencies including USDA Rural Development, which offers project funding for tiny communities that lack adequate water and wastewater services.
“It’s very important” that small communities learn what funding is available so they can solve some of California’s most pressing water needs, USDA community program specialist Dave Hartwell said in an interview. “What I find traveling around is people say, ‘USDA? Why are you here?’ This gives us an opportunity ... to get the word out about our programs.”
The meeting was one of six “funding fairs” planned throughout California this year by the agencies, which also include the state departments of Water Resources and Housing and Community Development, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank and CalRecycle.
Among those listening to the presentations was Weed, Calif., City Manager Ron Stock, who said he’s exploring funding options as the city’s existing water rights are proving insufficient to serve its growing needs.
A community in the heart of far Northern California’s timber country, Weed lost nearly 9 percent of its population to the Boles Fire in 2014, but residents are slowly rebuilding and there are two new businesses in town, Stock said.
“We’re just exploring what’s available,” he said, adding that his roughly 70-mile trip south to Redding would be worth it “if they can provide us with information that we can use.”
The fairs aim to provide “one-stop shopping” for those looking for funding from the agencies’ infrastructure grant, loan and bond financing programs, including water-quality and other money from the Proposition 1 water bond passed by voters in 2014.
Aside from money for major storage projects, the $7.5 billion bond also sets aside funds for such things as drinking water improvements, recycling projects and groundwater management.
“The goal of our program is to really help communities ... meet their infrastructure need,” said Pete Stamas, a sanitary engineer for the state water board. “We accept applications on a year-round basis so we’re always funding projects.”
The agencies’ push comes as tiny rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California have virtually run out of usable water because of the lingering drought. For instance, more than 1,000 wells failed in the Porterville, Calif., area last year as nearby citrus growers had to rely more on groundwater to offset a federal surface water shutoff.
One attendee on July 26 was Joe O’Loughlin, a sales manager for Fathom, a “smart grid for water” set up by 12 water utilities in Arizona. The group is touting its cloud-based meter-reading, automated billing and other services to small, rural districts at a fraction of what it would cost the districts to do the tasks themselves.
“I’m here to learn,” O’Loughlin said. “I want to understand the problems that these people are having. The state is offering some good opportunities for funding.”