Find Your Funding: Part 1 of 3 – Find Grants and Loans that can Move your Water Program Forward

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Funding is the keystone for any water-related improvement project, whether it be related to environmental compliance, resource restoration, water quality management, or service improvements. The economic downturn of 2008 sent many towns and municipal governments scrambling to cut costs while still maintaining infrastructure as well as completing capital and other improvement projects. Watershed protection organizations and other non-profits saw declines in donations and regular financial channels.

For many, the only avenue for pursuing program goals was to apply for different funding opportunities, like the myriad grants and loans that are available from a host of state and federal agencies. With economic growth still moving at a slow pace, identifying and pursuing funding outlets is critical for many environmental programs, both small and large, to sustain forward progress.

There is a wealth of grants and low-interest loans available to townships, boroughs and municipal governments in every state. But where to start? Consider both federal, state and other sources, such as:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA web site is a great place to start. Here you can find quick links to a variety of resources, including Grants.gov, EPA Grants Open Announcements, and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, the latter having excellent sorting and search functions to help you identify funding that matches your needs. Grants directly from the EPA tend to be fairly large in dollar value and are difficult to win unless your municipality meets fairly strict qualifications. Applications generally require an organization’s audited financial statements, and reviewers frequently consider census data as well. EPA loans are often awarded to areas with low populations and low MHI (median household income).

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA offers another form of federal funding, but availability and type vary greatly by state. The best way to identify opportunities is to contact your state USDA to inquire directly. For example, in the past we’ve successfully applied for loans in Delaware, while in Maryland we’ve received more grants. For the most part, USDA wants projects to be shovel-ready so consider the stage of your project. They do offer pre-planning grants for design, but most often expect the organization to follow-up with an application for construction funding as well. In my experience, construction dollars from USDA can be limited if a town has already received a pre-planning grant.

State Agencies. If you have a project narrowed down, meaning a length of stream restoration or bioretention along a streetscape, specific state agencies may be your best avenue as a funding resource. For example, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control offers a variety of loans and grants for programs that range from site remediation to water conservation to rehabilitation of storage tanks.

Non-Profits. There is a wealth of private, non-profit and quasi-governmental agencies that offer grants related to their mission or goals. These organizations often become partners in bringing a project to completion, providing assistance that goes beyond funding and can often include stakeholder and legislative advocacy. For example, we have worked with organizations like American Rivers, the Cumberland River Compact and The Nature Conservancy to facilitate dam removal projects in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Stream RestorationThe town of Millington had been looking for funding to restore their severely eroded stream. The town manager had met with several different funding agencies, explaining the seriousness of the issue and their need for financial assistance in order to complete the project, which was fairly small in size. Although smaller projects sometimes have difficulty obtaining funding, the Delaware Department of Resources (DNR) recognized the project’s credibility and the town’s need for support.

KCI helped in both securing the funding and designing the stream restoration. We coordinated several meetings with the town and DNR to flush out the application process, identify any requirements as well as roles and responsibilities. When securing funding, it’s important to be fully aware of what requirements are in place in order to assure reimbursement of project as well as engineering expenses.

With funding secured, the project moved quickly from design into construction. With KCI’s help the town manager was able to better serve her residents, ensure the safety of the residence impacted by the encroaching stream, and also gain confidence in pursuing future funding opportunities.

Check back in a week for my next post, which will talk about loans versus grants, the differences, how to decide and what impacts that choice could have.