The EPA has granted programs for small and disadvantaged communities to address the issue of PFAS in drinking water

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on July 25th, 2023

The Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities grant program of the EPA will provide states and territories with grants to public water systems in small or disadvantaged communities to tackle emerging contaminants, including PFAS. States are to use this funding to make grants to eligible emerging contaminant projects.

On February 13, 2023, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the availability of $2 billion from President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address emerging contaminants, including PFAS, in drinking water nationwide. The investment, which is allocated to states and territories, will be made available to communities as grants through EPA's Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program and will enable access to clean water in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities while also supporting local economies. This grant focuses on projects in which the main purpose is to address the challenges of PFAS removal from drinking water, whether the chemicals are found in public water systems or in source water.

States are to use this funding to make grants to eligible emerging contaminant projects or activities in small or disadvantaged communities. Established as a non-competitive grant program, eligibility to apply for and receive funds is limited to the following:

  • the fifty states
  • Puerto Rico
  • Guam
  • the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • American Samoa
  • the Northern Mariana Islands

A disadvantaged community is one determined by the state to be disadvantaged under the affordability criteria established by the state or may become a disadvantaged community as a consequence of carrying out a project or activity under the grant program. A small community is one that has a population of less than 10,000 people that the Administrator finds out does not have the capacity to incur debt enough to finance a project or activity under the grant program. States and territories can apply for funding through the Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities grant program later this year. Eligible activities include:

  • endeavors to address emerging contaminants in drinking water that would benefit a disadvantaged or small community on a per-household basis
  • technical assistance to assess emerging contaminant problems
  • programs to offer household water-quality testing
  • local contractor training
  • activities necessary and adequate for a state to respond to an emerging contaminant

Furthermore, the EPA launched the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which establishes the Small, Underserved, and Disadvantaged Communities grant to award funding to states, territories, and tribes to assist public water systems in meeting the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although funding is awarded on a non-competitive basis, states, territories, and tribes will need to apply to receive funding. The grant program has the purpose of helping public water systems in small, underserved, and disadvantaged communities meet and comply with the drinking water regulations by providing funding for drinking water projects and activities.

The amount of funding the EPA awards to each state and territory is based on an allocation formula that includes factors for populations below the poverty level, small water systems, and underserved communities, including a 10% tribal allotment. This allocation formula will be applied to the available funding for the year to determine how much funding is available for each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the five qualifying territories. If fewer than all states and territories participate in the program, the formula will be applied to any remaining and unclaimed base funds, and the funds will be allocated to all participating states and territories.

A community is considered underserved when it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • it does not have household drinking water or wastewater services
  • it is served by a public water system that violates or exceeds any maximum contaminant level, treatment technique, or action level

In addition to taking place in a qualifying community, grant funding must be used on projects that will help the community meet and comply with regulations through infrastructure work, technical, managerial, and financial capacity-building activities, or activities needed for a state to respond to a contaminant. Examples of qualifying project activities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • treatment
  • transmission and distribution
  • source
  • storage
  • creation of new systems
  • consolidation
  • household water quality testing
  • providing households access to drinking water services
  • assistance to increase technical, managerial, and financial capacity
  • drinking water contamination response efforts

The EPA informs the states each fiscal year of their allotments for the grant program. States may apply for their individual allotments after they are announced. Before applying for their allotments, states must submit draft work plans to their respective EPA Region. When reviewing the draft work plans, EPA Regions must determine whether activities conform to all applicable requirements of the grant. Participating states are encouraged to submit applications as soon as possible. Funding will be granted on a rolling basis as applications are received. EPA Regional offices are the main points of contact to approve grant applications and award funding.

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