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Disadvantaged communities to receive help securing wastewater infrastructure funds
March 19, 2024, 8:08 p.m.

UTIA and partners implement new statewide University-Utility partnership

wastewater systems tennessee
Wastewater systems located in small and disadvantaged communities, such as the one pictured in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, may soon benefit from a statewide university-utility partnership that assists communities with successfully applying for low-interest wastewater infrastructure loans. Photo by T. Johnson, courtesy UTIA

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Water Resources Research Center, affiliated with University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is partnering with the UT Institute of Agriculture, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Memphis to implement a statewide university-utility partnership to help small and disadvantaged communities successfully apply for low-interest wastewater infrastructure loans.

“The partnership aims to train communities to build technical, managerial and financial capacity to improve wastewater infrastructure,” said Sreedhar Upendram, associate professor in the UT Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The publicly available loans are through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, which provides low or negative interest rate loans, debt refinancing, debt issuance and principal forgiveness to support the expansion and modification of critical wastewater infrastructure that help keep the nation’s waterways clean. The recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides an additional $11.7 billion to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, creating an opportunity for wastewater treatment service providers to make significant improvements to their systems. The additional funding is especially beneficial for small and disadvantaged communities, which are likely to qualify for these loans with the lowest available interest rates and principal forgiveness. However, these communities may have less time to devote to a loan application and often face significant barriers to accessing the loans, due to a lack of technical, managerial and financial resources.

The partnership program is designed to overcome these barriers and help wastewater systems in small and disadvantaged communities access available loans and pursue other funding opportunities. The Tennessee Water Resources Research Center will lead the effort, tapping into resources and expertise at top institutions of higher education across the state to deliver technical assistance and training to these communities.

Each university will serve as a central hub for project activities in their respective region of the state. Faculty from the partner institutions will conduct twice-yearly training workshops to provide an overview of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, focusing on the fundamentals of asset management and financial capacity plans, critical to applying for the funding program.

Higher education partners include Larry Moore with the University of Memphis; Tania Datta with Tennessee Tech University; Qiang He, Steven Hoagland and John Schwartz from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Sreedhar Upendram from the UT Institute of Agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is supporting the partnership initiative with a three-year grant totaling $1,042,992.

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is comprised of the Herbert College of Agriculture, UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch and UT Extension. Through its land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach, the Institute touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. to Tennesseans and beyond.

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