State Plan Would Boost Distribution of Funds for Drinking Water Projects
On Monday, the California Department of Public Health submitted a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the distribution of federal funds for safe drinking water projects, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The move comes after the EPA in April issued a noncompliance notice to DPH (Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, 6/24).
DPH administers federalÂ money through its Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
The agency typically makes loans to cities, counties and other local agencies to improve drinking water treatment systems by removing harmful chemicals or making other improvements.
Details of Noncompliance Notice
According to the noncompliance notice, California has received more than $1.5 billion for its safe drinking water fund over the past 15 years but has failed to spend a large portion of the funding in a timely manner.
The notice said that California's unspent $455 million is the program's largest unspent sum among all U.S. states.
Jared Blumenfeld -- regional administrator for EPA -- said, "We certainly hear from [California] communities that they need the money and they are not being able to access it." He added, "The facts speak for themselves.Â [The] money is not going out the door as quickly as it should."
According to the notice, when the state does spend the federal funding, it often chooses projects that are not ready to be implemented. Blumenfeld said that if the state had "reprogrammed" the money "more effectively, there could be short-term projects that are ready now that could already be funded, as opposed to funding projects that are not ready to start."
The notice also noted that the state's drinking water fund lacks an adequate system for financial oversight and accountability, which has resulted in inaccurate calculations of revenue from ongoing loan repayments.
The state was given 60 days to submit a corrective action plan (California Healthline, 4/22).
The state's 16-page plan seeks to:
- Implement a cash flow model to better monitor the $1.5 billion that the state has been awarded by EPA for safe drinking water projects;
- Revise the project priority list to focus on areas with the greatest need;
- Distribute more than $800 million for such projects over the next three years (Los Angeles Times, 6/24); and
- Disperse $85 million in unspent funds by the end of June (Quinton, "KXJZ News," Capitol Public Radio, 6/24).
Jennifer Clary, Clean Water Action program manager, said she is concerned that expediting spending might cause officials to cut corners and divert funds away from projects in disadvantaged areas.
However, Kathleen Billingsley -- chief deputy director of policy and programs at DPH -- said there will be "adequate funding to address small, medium and large water systems."EPA representative David Yogi said the agency is reviewing the plan and will determine whether to approve it by July 1 (Los Angeles Times, 6/24). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.