State disburses more cash for drinking water
The state Department of Health says it’s ahead of schedule in meeting federal requirements to funnel more money to the counties to fix aging drinking water systems.
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The state Department of Health says it’s ahead of schedule in meeting federal requirements to funnel more money to the counties to fix aging drinking water systems, and hopes to soon recoup more than $8 million in federal funds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been withholding because of the department’s history of poor fund utilization.
The Health Department disbursed more than
$10.36 million in federal funds during the last half of 2015 from its Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, exceeding a federal target of $7.67 million, according to a Health Department news release issued Tuesday.
In addition, the department says that as of Jan. 4 it has committed to providing the counties with funds totaling more than $32.7 million, exceeding its
$28.28 million target.
The deadline for meeting these funding targets is Jan. 29.
“We must continually demonstrate our stewardship of the federal funds and account for how the funds are being used before we can receive additional funds,” Joanna Seto, chief of the Health Department’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said in a statement. “Our SRF team and county customers were all aware of the pending deadline and what was at stake. There was great teamwork and collaboration to meet the deadline.”
In September the EPA informed the Health Department that it was withholding $8 million — all of the 2015 fiscal year funding that’s earmarked for repairing Hawaii’s drinking water infrastructure — because of the department’s poor track record of spending federal dollars.
At the end of 2014, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which is matched 20 percent by the state, had a balance of $100 million.
Meanwhile the state has estimated that $1 billion in repairs are needed over the next two decades to fix the state’s aging drinking water systems.
The EPA found that the Health Department was allocating money to projects that weren’t shovel-ready; needed to make bigger loans; and did a poor job of tracking the program’s finances.
Last year federal officials approved a series of corrective actions that the state has to take to remain in good standing and recoup federal funding.
“This is one of the major ones that will allow them to meet an important target and then apply for the
$8 million that was withheld,” said EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi.
He said that the EPA is reviewing the Health Department’s spending plan to make sure it complies with federal requirements.
“This is like the NFL: We have to go behind the camera and go back through the replays and make sure they scored all the touchdowns before we raise our hands in a victory salute,” said Higuchi.
Congress established the state drinking water funds in 1996 to help states comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, environmental legislation passed in the 1970s to safeguard the country’s drinking water.
In recent years Hawaii has used only between 71 percent and 86 percent of the federal funds that were available, and has ranked near the bottom of all states when it comes to fund utilization.
The Health Department has stressed in past months that it is committed to doing a better job of using the federal funds.
Officials highlighted a number of projects that are in its spending plan.
In Hawaii County the Health Department has committed more than $4.1 million for the Laupahoehoe Reservoir, almost $12.9 million for a microfiltration project at the Waimea Water Treatment Plant, $823,420 for a Halaula well development project and $3.2 million for the Ahualoa-Honokaa transmission waterline.
The Health Department has also committed
$11.65 million in funds to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.