BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials want to spend $300 million over the next five years to upgrade drinking water and wastewater treatment systems across the state, the state’s top environmental official said Thursday.
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director Jess Byrne told the Legislature’s budget committee that the plan is to spend $60 million annually over the next five years for a total of $300 million.
The money is coming from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act approved last year. Of that, $350 billion is going into the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Idaho is getting $1.1 billion of that money.
Republican Gov. Bard Little’s Leading Idaho plan calls for using a big chunk of its share to shore up the state’s water infrastructure. That plan, announced in January, involves using Idaho's $1.9 billion surplus for tax cuts and federal coronavirus rescue money as well for investments.
The money would be distributed in grants “prioritizing small systems that can’t afford necessary upgrades,” Byrne told lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
He said the agency received 263 letters of interest in receiving money totaling over $1.4 billion for water and wastewater projects.
Small and rural communities have difficulty paying for public drinking and wastewater service due to smaller populations that make it hard to spread the cost of expensive infrastructure, said Shelley Roberts, chief executive officer at the Idaho Rural Water Association.
“It is Idaho's rural communities that enable the avid recreation we enjoy,” she said in an email to The Associated Press. “Clean, safe drinking water is an important foundation to support the economic vitality our rural communities need to continue to prosper.”
The state Department of Environmental Quality also plans to spend about $14 million of federal money annually for five years for a total of $70 million to close landfills and clean up abandoned mines and contaminated sites, including work at the Triumph Mine about 6 miles (9 kilometers) south of Sun Valley in central Idaho as well as Lake Coeur d’Alene, where tons of sediment were contaminated with heavy metal from mining in the region.
With the additional federal money, the overall budget request being recommended by Little for the agency is $144 million, double the previous year's budget.
The budget committee will vote on the request later this session.
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