Kemp announces $422 million in federally funded water and sewer grants

Gov. Brian Kemp continued to dole out federal COVID-19 relief money Tuesday, announcing $422 million worth of water and sewer grants to dozens of cities and counties.

The awards came three weeks after Kemp announced $408 million in COVID-19 relief funding would go to expand high-speed internet service in the state to over 132,000 homes and businesses that currently lack access.

The money is part of the $4.8 billion the state is expected to receive in federal relief money that congressional Democrats approved a year ago over GOP opposition.

Kemp set up three committees last year to recommend how to spend a chunk of the money. Individuals, businesses, nonprofits, cities and counties requested about $14.6 billion in funding, far more than Kemp had to spend.

While Republicans in Congress opposed the relief plan, the committees Kemp set up were heavy on GOP lawmakers from outside of metro Atlanta, a politically key area for the governor as he fights to win reelection this year.

Most of the water and sewer grants would go to areas outside metro Atlanta, although Kemp included awards for Douglas, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and the city of Smyrna.

“Today we are taking another significant step forward when it comes to Georgia’s infrastructure,” Kemp told a crowd at the Capitol while announcing the grants. “Certain infrastructure that doesn’t always receive a lot of attention but that we rely on every single day.”

Kemp noted that Georgia has experienced three exceptional droughts since 2000, putting pressure on water resources and users in the Flint River Basin.

So $49.8 million will be used by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Albany State University to improve agriculture irrigation practices, provide better resource protection and enhance water source resiliency, especially during droughts.

The project will install 15 deep aquifer monitoring wells to collect data on water capacity and 242 other deep aquifer wells to allow farmers to use that water during a drought rather than pulling from the Flint River and its tributaries.

“Knowing that we are only a missed rain shower away from a drought at any one time, this is one (project) in particular that I am excited about,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, who served on the committees that recommended the projects. “We all understand southwest Georgia is by far the biggest portion of the state that feeds the world. This helps move them forward for generations to come.”

Some of the projects will go to help small cities with no back-up water supplies or contaminated wells, and others to counties looking to extend drinking water to areas served by unpermitted or other residential wells.

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, who represents southwest Georgia, praised the awards Tuesday at a press conference announcing them that was attended by local government officials.

“Like many of you, we’ve had to deal with an aging, aging, not-working-half-the-time infrastructure,” Sims said. “For decades, many of us have had barely functioning water systems. Taxation was not an option because most of the folks in these areas couldn’t afford higher taxes.

“The awards we are going to get will make our cities, make our areas, so much better functioning, not only for our present day, but for our future.”