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TN Water Resources Research Center Secures $1 Million EPA Grant for Statewide Wastewater System Enhancement Project


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Water Resources Research Center (TNWRRC), affiliated with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for its collaborative initiative, “Statewide University-Utility Partnership for Technical, Managerial, and Financial Assistance to Wastewater Systems in Rural Tennessee.” The project, planned to span approximately three years, aims to provide aid and support to small and economically disadvantaged communities across the state in obtaining low-interest wastewater infrastructure loans through specialized training and technical assistance programs.

In collaboration with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), Tennessee Tech University (TTU), and the University of Memphis (UofM), the project targets all 95 counties of Tennessee, organized into west, middle, and east regions, to ensure equitable delivery of technical assistance and training. 

The project’s primary goal is to enhance wastewater system infrastructure in small communities by facilitating their access to loans and funding. To achieve this, the endeavor proposes a comprehensive set of training and technical assistance activities, organized into six essential tasks. These tasks include communication with the project team and partners, identification of community needs, provision of technical assistance, delivery of training, enhancement and creation of training materials, and the establishment of a monitoring and reporting framework. 

Heading the initiative is Dr. John Schwartz, the Director of TNWRRC and UTK Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Supporting Dr. Schwartz are Steven Hoagland from TNWRRC, Dr. Qiang He from UTK’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Larry Moore from UofM, Dr. Tania Datta from TTU, and Dr. Sreedhar Upendram from UTIA. This collaborative team actively engages with small systems, identifies community needs, and provides training and technical assistance across all three regions in Tennessee. Their collective efforts are geared towards empowering communities to secure funding for critical wastewater system enhancements, ultimately contributing to the long-term sustainability of rural Tennessee.

The project aligns with the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program’s annual prioritization requirement, using the Ability to Pay Index (ATPI) developed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and UTIA. The ATPI prioritizes projects based on the socioeconomic characteristics of project communities, assigning scores reflecting their ability to fund wastewater system upgrades.

Notably, the proposed work addresses three of EPA’s five long-term performance goals: reducing water systems in noncompliance by 33%, leveraging an additional $45 billion in non-federal funds through EPA’s water infrastructure finance programs, and aiding small, rural, or underserved communities to improve the operations of their drinking water or wastewater systems (U.S. EPA, 2022).

This collaborative effort signifies a significant step towards enhancing the resilience and sustainability of wastewater systems in rural Tennessee communities. The project’s impact is anticipated to extend beyond the three-year timeline, contributing to the long-term well-being of the state’s small and economically disadvantaged populations.