Natchez on short list to get water funds

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BY: RACHEL MIPRO, THE ILLUMINATOR

Louisiana moved forward with putting money into 29 water and sewer projects around the state. The state’s Water Section Commission recommended Tuesday that this initial group of projects — costing around $23 million in total —  receive funding.  The projects would upgrade water and sewer systems in Calcasieu Parish, West Monroe, Natchez and DeQuincy, among other places. The Louisiana Legislature’s joint budget committee still needs to approve the list, but that rubber stamp is expected Wednesday.

This article published in the Dec. 9, 2021, print edition

More water and sewer system improvements are still in the works. After hitting a few operational snags, applications for the first round of water and sewer system funding were submitted in November, with 539 eligible applications totaling more than $1.1 billion in requests. Under the guidelines, eligible water and sewer systems can receive up to $5 million each. The state has only set aside $300 million to spend on water and sewer upgrades, so most of those who have applied for funding won’t receive money. The funding is only expected to cover about 4% of the state’s water and sewer infrastructure needs.

President Joe Biden’s administration calculated that Louisiana would need $7 billion over the next 20 years to fix water systems. Around 20% out of the 1,287 water systems that the Louisiana Department of Health oversees are not up to code, the Illuminator reported in May, with close to 2,000 boil water notices issued in the state every year.   While the state may eventually devote more money to water and sewer needs –the Legislature still has a remaining $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 aid that will be allocated next year–lawmakers on the commission said they were trying to stretch the current allocation as far as possible for now.

“We need to set priorities within each project, to be able to make the money go as far as we can to actually address the needs that are in the state, which are many,” Sen. Brett Allain, R-Franklin, said.  The water and sewer system applications will be rated by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration and returned to the commission by Jan. 10.

The deadline was pushed back by a few weeks to allow for more detailed information on project scoring. Those projections with higher scores are expected to receive a better shot at getting funded.