Louisiana will receive $101 million as the first installment of federal money from the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“If it’s not there Monday, it’ll be there in two weeks,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune on Thursday.

Cassidy was instrumental in negotiating the bipartisan $1.2 trillion spending plan to upgrade highways and bridges, improve ports, expand high speed internet, and work on the nation's long neglected infrastructure. Louisiana expects to receive more than $6 billion of that spending. But the first batch of funds will go towards improving systems that provide drinking water to communities.

The funding will go towards improving drinking water infrastructure, including replacing lead pipes, removing contaminants, and ensuring rural and underserved communities have clean drinking water. This funding accounts for fiscal year 2022. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides additional funding each year through 2026, meaning Louisiana can expect to receive similar sums for water infrastructure during each of the next four years.

Louisiana’s infrastructure money is coming from $7.4 billion that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan announced Thursday afternoon would be distributed. The funding is flowing through the EPA’s State Revolving Fund programs aimed at America’s aging water infrastructure and addressing lead in drinking water as well as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.

Almost every local official Cassidy has spoken to across the state has asked for help with the failing pipes, pumps and towers that deliver drinking water to homes and businesses.

And it’s not just the small towns and parishes, though some of those systems are near collapse, Cassidy said the money also will help New Orleans have fewer advisories to boil water before drinking it and Shreveport can repair the pipes that broke during the February freeze.

“Across the state, local officials prioritize investment in clean water. Often times their tax base cannot support the repairs that need to be done,” Cassidy said. “These taxpayer dollars coming from the federal government can make these repairs, can help these towns, can provide clean water.”

Some communities can’t afford the expensive fixes and others are without a tax base as people and businesses move elsewhere, Cassidy said. About half the IIJA money will come in the form of grants and the other half will be low interest loans that will be repaid to a revolving fund that can be used to help other communities in the future.

“This puts it in reach for a lot of communities,” Cassidy added, noting that the alternative is state taxpayers having to step in to pay for repairs when a local system fails, as what happened in St. Joseph when lead was found in the water of a town with less than a thousand residents.

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Louisiana municipalities and parishes have been struggling to repair and upgrade drinking water systems that built more than half century ago for more than half the state. About one in five of the 1,300 systems don’t meet the standards set up by the Louisiana Department of Health and the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The state has about $4 billion in needs, said state Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, the Houma Republican who co-chairs the Water Selection Commission. The commission, earlier this week, recommended 29 water infrastructure projects to receive $29 million of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which passed in March. The Legislature approved the recommendations Wednesday.

Another $300 million is available from the American Rescue Plan Act, but nearly 550 local water systems have applied, asking for more than $1 billion in funding.

“Communities all over the state are drinking and bathing in brown water,” Zeringue said Thursday. “This is certainly going to enhance our ability to tackle some of these water issues.”

The infrastructure legislation, which Cassidy helped draft, received final approval on Nov. 6 from the U.S. House and in August from the U.S. Senate. Only Democratic Rep. U.S. Troy Carter, of New Orleans, joined Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican, in backing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The rest of Louisiana’s congressional delegation opposed the bipartisan measure. U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville, voted “no” as did Republican U.S. Reps Steve Scalise, of Jefferson; Clay Higgins, of Lafayette; Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge; Julia Letlow, of Start; and Michael Johnson, of Bossier City.

Kennedy's spokeswoman Jess Andrews said Friday the senator supported money for water projects when it was part of a separate bill, which was then added to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But because of some of the act's other provisions, Kennedy voted against the IIJA.

 

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.