From The Editor | October 12, 2018

How To Become More Successful At Funding Water Infrastructure

Pete Antoniewicz

By Pete Antoniewicz

Lending

Prioritizing and funding pressing infrastructure needs can be challenging for water treatment and wastewater treatment plants (WTPs/WWTPs) of any size. The problems are particularly stressful for smaller utilities where a thin layer of upper management staff wears an inordinate number of hats. The good news is that funding assistance does exist — if you know where to look for it and take the right steps to apply for it.

New Challenges Call For New Strategies

When utilities face challenges beyond their normal scope of operations — major emergency repairs to aging infrastructure, forced source water changes, emerging environmental concerns, or new regulatory demands — grants can be an important way to fund urgently needed improvements.  

Multiple government website resources are available to provide WTP/WWTP operators with guidance on identifying funding resources and on how to capitalize on those resources for water utility projects. They include the U.S. EPA Water Finance Clearinghouse, the EPA Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, the EPA Effective Funding Frameworks For Water Infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program, and the Grants.gov Learning Center.  

If your utility is one that has struggled with grant applications in the past, a new guideMunicipal Grants for Water and Wastewater Systems Everything you should know but never got around to asking — can also provide valuable perspective. It describes various categories of grants to provide insight on which types might be most appropriate for your organization to pursue. It also identifies major government resources for grant funding, economic development funding, and disaster recovery programs, along with case studies of grants in action.

The Opportunities Might Be Greater Than You Imagined

If your utility tends to shy away from grant applications because “They’re just too hard to win” or because “We just don’t know how to do it,” reconsider just how many financing opportunities there are. These include both annual funding programs and project-specific funding-assistance opportunities — some as grants and others as low-interest loans. Monitor opportunities communicated through industry publications, industry associations, government notices, or your own online research to identify opportunities that are particularly well-suited to your utility needs. Here are several online resources you can bookmark to track upcoming opportunities and deadlines:

The Keys To Success

When it comes to grant applications, life offers no guarantees, because the sources of funding and the competition for them can be tight. Good preparation is an essential first step toward success.

  • Do Your Homework. The opportunities are out there. Make it a habit for someone within your organization to record future grant opportunities as you become aware of them. Then, when specific physical needs arise within your plant, be prepared to match those needs to the appropriate funding opportunities.

Another area to do your homework is in the practice of writing the applications. If you do not have an experienced grant writer on staff, you might have to decide between engaging an experienced grant writer on a contract basis or having someone within your organization take on the role of learning from the online educational resources cited above.

  • Identify A Good Match. Don’t invest time in low-potential applications. If your project does not match the criteria of a specific grant description, or if you simply do not have the appropriate information to do a thorough job on the application, save your time and energy for another grant opportunity where you’ll have a greater chance for success.

  • Build A Solid Case. Study the grant application description to gain a sound understanding of its requirements. Being thorough in providing all the supporting data requested as part of the grant application goes a long way toward a successful application. Having a well-thought-out and documented action plan and budget, including the public benefits to be gained from the project, will also go a long way toward making your application competitive. If you are using a consulting engineering firm on the project, take advantage of their experience working on previous grant-funded projects to guide your efforts.

  • Dot All The “i”s And Cross All The “t”s. Don’t let little technicalities, such as a poor project description, incomplete supporting documentation, an inaccurate address, or a late submission date torpedo your efforts. Know the rules for each grant submission and follow them to the best of your ability.

Image credit:"Lending," Steven Millstein © 2018, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/