Aug 19, 2022 - News

Arkansas water projects get recommendation for ARPA money

Illustration of three droplets of water, with different emojis on them.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Arkansas' water may soon run a little clearer.

What's happening: The Arkansas American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Steering Committee on Thursday OK'd $300 million for state water-related needs requested by the Department of Agriculture.

Why it matters: There are 1,417 water-related infrastructure projects valued at more than $5.26 billion that need attention statewide, according to a 2021 survey.

  • A working group chaired by Wes Ward, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, conducted the survey to uncover needs for residents to have quality drinking water as well as effective wastewater, stormwater and dam/levee systems.

By the numbers: The average cost of each project was $3.76 million, the working group found. Of the 1,417 needs, more than 700 were related to drinking water, 500 linked to wastewater and about 150 tied to stormwater. The remainder were about dam/levee systems or mixed projects.

  • The state government alone — ranging from departments of corrections to tourism — has more than $38 million in projects that need to be addressed.

Details: The state Department of Agriculture proposed that $270 million go into a grant program, and cities, counties and other public entities can apply, but projects must comply with guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • About $20 million will be earmarked for two Arkansas Game and Fish Commission projects.
  • Another $10 million will be set aside for two irrigation projects.
  • There's a recommended $5 million cap per entity.

What they're saying: "I would emphasize that water and wastewater are critically important across the entire state of Arkansas," Ward told Axios. "You can't narrow that down to a specific region or specific area."

Context: Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed the ARPA Steering Committee in May 2021 to make recommendations on the distribution of nearly $1.6 billion in ARPA funding. The money must be spent on one of eight criteria, including for water and sewer infrastructure.

  • Before any recommendations were made Thursday, the Steering Committee had over $876 million of the $1.6 billion available.
  • Separate from the state's funds, Arkansas cities and counties will also receive more than $1 billion in ARPA money.

What's next: Once an agency has received recommendations from the Steering Committee, they must also get approval from Hutchinson and Arkansas Legislative Council.

  • Ward told Axios if all goes according to plan, his department will have the green light on Aug. 26.
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