News Feature | November 15, 2017

Will Trump Kill The Rural Utilities Service Program?

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

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Though it may surprise most Americans, there are plenty of places in this country that do not have access to clean water. And a recent news report put the blame for that on the current Presidential administration.

St. Joseph, LA, is one example of the thousands of small towns across the U.S. that cannot afford to properly treat and supply drinking water. Its conditions were recently profiled by Reveal, the publishing platform of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“Brown and gritty, the city’s water had been fouled by deteriorating pipelines and treatment equipment for years; parts of the system were more than a century old,” Reveal reported, regarding St. Joseph’s water. “But last year, tests discovered a worse problem: The drinking water was loaded with high concentrations of lead, the same brain-damaging contaminant that poisoned people in Flint, Michigan.”

While drinking water quality problems stem from years of consistent neglect, the Reveal report indicated that things only stand to get worse under President Trump, who has promised to make strides on infrastructure improvement and visited Flint while on the campaign trail.

“The chronic problem has threatened rural America’s health and economy for decades,” reported Reveal. “And it could worsen under President Donald Trump, who has proposed axing a program that provides a vital last resort for rural communities without clean water.”

The program in question is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which awards water and sewer loans and grants to towns with populations of 10,000 or less. While President Obama gave the program $498 million in 2017, President Trump has budgeted nothing for it.

“The program is a backstop for small towns that can’t find funding elsewhere,” per Reveal. “A slow, complex network of federal, state, local and private dollars typically fund water systems… the goal of the Rural Utilities Service is to stop emergencies such as this from happening to millions of people in thousands of small towns across the nation.”

Though President Trump may still allocate money to the program or find other ways of helping rural infrastructure issues, Americans are going without clean drinking water in the meantime.

To read more about how water systems pay for infrastructure improvements visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.

Image credit: "St. Joseph, Louisiana," Chris White, 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/