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The Water Sector Commission’s application for funding has been extended giving local towns and water systems additional time to apply for much needed money.

Application period has been extended until September 14, according to Rep. Neil Riser, who sits on the commission along with Sen. Glen Womack.

Both local lawmakers were selected to be on the Water Sector Commission tasked to develop ways to spend $300 million for repairs and improvements to community water systems.

Riser requested the extension due to the slow promulgation of rules which were not implemented until July. 

Rules set by the commission capped projects at $5 million although Riser acknowledged there could be “exception to the rule,” and money cannot be used for future expansions.

“This is for current consumers only,” Riser said. “This is for current water systems.”

Commissioners also give priority to water systems who desire to consolidate, Riser said. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested consolidation of water systems throughout his administration. By consolidating, rural water systems can share operation costs, according to Edwards.

To complete the process, municipalities or water systems must fill out what’s called a user access form and answer 31 items in the application process, including system issues, cost and infrastructure estimates.

Louisiana Department of Health will score water systems and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will score sewer systems before the Office of Facility Planning and Control and Office of Community Development-Local Government Assistance give their application recommendations.  

Water Sector Commission and Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget will give projects final approval.

“We set up the Water Sector program to be able to direct federal relief funding to systems with  the greatest and most immediate needs,” Commissioner Jay Dardenne said. “LDH and DEQ will be looking at project severity as it pertains to public health and the adequacy of the proposed improvements to eliminate unsanitary conditions.”

Womack and Riser said many communities in their district are in desperate need of water and waste water system upgrades. Many local and statewide systems are 40 to 50 years old and are showing signs of aging. 

“The legislature put back $300 million to spend this year and $300 million next year on water and waste water (projects) from the American Rescue Act,” Womack said in an earlier interview. “We are going to be able to set up the criteria. We’re looking at rating each system, and we want to encourage anybody who has money to put up some for system improvements.”

Womack and Riser acknowledged $300 million is a small amount to improve systems statewide and needs local municipalities to work with them.

Lawmakers also want local municipalities and water organizations to be able to sustain their systems through possible rate increases if needed.

“Get your rates up where they need to be,” Womack said in an earlier interview. “Make sure you have a plan of sustainability. We’ll build it, but you have to be sustainable.”

Riser gave a bleak glimpse into Louisiana’s water and sewer infrastructure if matters were not addressed.

“Here is the number to remember,” Riser said. “2030 is crisis and 2050 is critical mass on water. It is now 2021. We have to do something now. This is a big deal.”

A Water Sector Commission meeting date has not been set but Riser said a meeting could be as soon as October 1 to begin the application review process.

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