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Private water companies can expect only partial public funding

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Private, domestic water company representatives were told last week that public funding participation by USDA Rural Development will cover "at most 45 percent of costs" for private water system improvements. However, even funding at the 45-percent level is not guaranteed.

In addition, a project being proposed by Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) for private pipelines in Surface Creek Valley would take at least three years to complete.

Those were two of the specific details revealed at a meeting last week.

Some 30 people representing 16 private domestic water pipelines were at Orchard City Town Hall on Aug. 6 to hear about the program which, they were told, could improve their water systems and pay some of the costs. By banding together and sharing costs to achieve "economies of scale," RCAC representative Jay Mashburn explained that private domestic water pipeline companies could improve their systems and eliminate administrative headaches by becoming direct outside water customers of Orchard City.

The Orchard City meeting ended after about an hour with a promise from Mashburn that he will prepare a "flier" about various program options. The fact sheet will be sent to each of the 16 private companies represented at last week's meeting, and also to each of the other outside private domestic pipeline companies that source treated water from the Town of Orchard City.

According to town staff, there are 34 private pipeline companies that use Orchard City's treated water.

After sending out the flier, Mashburn said that a ballot would then be sent to the companies. Response from the ballot will be used to provide guidance on the most popular program option and the level of overall support for moving forward with the program idea.

Pipeline company representatives at the meeting voiced the "need for new pipelines," the desire for "ownership and operations under one entity," and the hope for "attractive financing" as reasons for their interest in the RCAC pitch.

Hard and fast details were few as Mashburn talked in general terms, hoping that attendees at the meeting would make and stick with "decisions" on which development of a program could move forward.

Several times during the session Mashburn noted provisions of the Safe Water Drinking Act. The federal law requires private domestic water companies to register as public water providers if they have more than 25 customers or serve more than 15 locations. He said the costs and paperwork, monthly reports and regular water quality testing required of public water companies is significant and is an incentive to joining the RCAC program.

Mashburn also emphasized the need for pipeline companies that want to proceed with a program to "trust one another and cooperate."

A staff member of the local USDA Rural Development office, David Carter of Orchard City, said that any program involving public funding would be at least a three-year process. "Think in terms of years if you are using public funding," he said.

Carter said there is adequate money available now for funding projects like the one RCAC is outlining. "Now is the time to begin," he said.

The publicly funded process would involve proposals and studies that could include ones dealing with feasibility, environmental review, archaeological survey, population growth forecasts, engineering reports, and applications for funding.

Carter said that the USDA has done projects in the local area and is familiar with issues involved.

Other government programs besides the RCAC may exist for companies that want to upgrade but are unable to do so financially.

The Town of Orchard City offers its own, separate partially funded program for pipeline companies that want to upgrade facilities, disband, and become direct outside customers of the town's water utility. Still, the financial and operational needs of the private pipeline companies vary widely, and the town's offer is out of financial reach for some.

RCAC is a non-profit organization that is based in California. Numerous rural and community assistance corporations operate in various areas of the country. Generally they operate closely with government funding agencies, providing "technical assistance" on projects ranging from affordable housing to solid waste disposal and wastewater treatment.

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