EPA Gives UNC $2 Million for Water System Improvement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $2 million to the Environmental Finance Center at the University for its work toward improving the country’s smallest water systems — those serving fewer than 10,000 people.

Small water systems are managed by local and tribal governments, mobile home park owners, homeowners associations, shopping mall operators and hotel managers. These managers often have many other, very different responsibilities and may lack the technical, managerial and financial expertise required to run a good water system.

The finance center, housed in UNC’s School of Government, will lead a team including the Environmental Finance Center Network and the American Water Works Association that will build the financial and managerial capabilities of those who manage these water systems. The EPA grant will fund classroom training, workshops, small group and one-on-one assistance, webcasts, and online tools and resources. Collectively, these efforts will help small water system managers to understand their assets, find opportunities for cost savings and potential funding sources, look for ways to work with other systems, increase water and energy efficiency and develop sound fiscal policies and practices. The grant will enable the team to serve small water systems in all 10 EPA regions, all 50 states and all U.S. territories for 18 months.

“Small water systems comprise more than 94 percent of the nation’s 157,000 public water systems and struggle much more to meet clean drinking water standards than their larger counterparts,” said Glenn Barnes ’99, senior project director of the Environmental Finance Center, who also received his MPA from UNC in 2008. “In 2011, 25 percent of the nation’s smallest systems violated health-based standards in part due to their geographic isolation, small staff size, growing infrastructure needs and small customer bases.”

The center is dedicated to enhancing the ability of governments and other organizations to provide environmental programs in fair, effective and financially sustainable ways. The work of the EFC is focused on a variety of environmental areas, including water resources, clean energy, solid waste management and land conservation.

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