Days before Louisiana water districts can apply for aid, program guidelines are incomplete

By: - July 31, 2021 10:00 am

At the Friday Water Sector Commission meeting, lawmakers discussed funding criteria (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)

Lawmakers on the Louisiana Legislature’s Water Sector Commission announced at a Friday meeting at the Greater Lafourche Port Commission in Cut Off that the state’s struggling water districts will be able to access an application portal Sunday Aug.1. Those communities will be seeking a portion of $300 million in federal pandemic aid the Legislature set aside for improvements and upgrades to local governments’ water systems.

But the commission, which was formed by the Legislature during this year’s regular session, hasn’t made much progress. Members of the commission debated how much should be devoted to administrative costs; they discussed the prospect of consolidating some small water systems and talked about the importance of sustainability after upgrade projects are completed, but they didn’t make any decisions on those issues.

As for the application process, the commission will use a scoring system to determine funding eligibility, but it remains unclear as to what the selection process will look like. Some communities will likely need to coordinate with engineers and the Louisiana Department of Health and then have their requested projects reviewed and ranked by the Division Of Administration, which will then send the application to the commission. 

Other communities may have already gone through preliminary steps and might be able to undergo a streamlined process.

“We see this being all over the map quite frankly,” said Mark Moses, assistant commissioner for Facility Planning & Control in the Louisiana Division of Administration. “There’s going to be those that are ready, those that haven’t started anything yet.”

 “This first effort, we’re going to make a good first step, but we’re not going to solve all the problems,” Moses said.  

With the application process ending Sept. 24, Zeringue is optimistic about getting the money out to communities that need it within months. 

“We’re hoping to get it done as quickly as possible,” commission co-chair Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue (R-Houma),  said. “We do have some that we’ve identified as critical infrastructure that necessarily won’t have to go through the scoring process that fit the funding criteria that we can move forward on those within six months, if not sooner.” 

Zeringue said more funding could be allocated to water system improvement projects in the next legislative session.

As President Joe Biden flew to Louisiana in May, his deputy press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre said Louisiana’s drinking water infrastructure is expected to require $7 billion in additional funding over the next 20 years. In 2017, the Louisiana Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the state’s drinking water a D-

The $300 million the Legislature has set aside is 4% of the amount the White House says Louisiana needs over the next two decades.

While most legislative committee hearings are live streamed on the Louisiana Legislature’s website, Friday’s meeting in Cut Off was not.  There did not appear to be any members of the public present.

Eight members out of the 10 members on the commission were present for the meeting and  many were dressed casually.  Zeringue, the co-chair of the commission, wore green shorts and a fishing shirt. The Louisiana Coastal Conservation Association on Friday kicked off its 2021 Legislators’ Rodeo in Grand Isle, a two-day fishing event about 30 minutes from the water sector commission meeting.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.