Sparta, Tenn., Apr 22, 2014 -- Planting trees to provide environmental benefits for future generations happens all around the world on Earth Day. At White County Middle School in Sparta, Tenn., this year’s celebration also marked the end of a major sewage problem.
"Safe, reliable water and wastewater treatment are essential to the economic health of rural communities and the well-being of the families who live here," said USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator John Padalino at his first stop on a tour of USDA-financed projects in Tennessee. "Local utilities help meet these needs when nature and individual households can no longer do it alone."
During yesterday’s event at the middle school, Sparta Mayor Jeff Young told Padalino the story of how, years ago, students and teachers started noticing that the football field was staying soft long after a rain. The city’s antiquated sewer pumps and force mains could no longer keep up with rainwater runoff, pushing overflows of raw sewage out of drains and manhole covers all over the city.
USDA financing for infrastructure projects like reliable sewer and water systems has a positive impact on the environment and the economy. With some of the largest stretches of contiguous forest in the eastern U.S., along with dramatic gorges, lakes and rivers, the near-pristine condition of the natural environment is one of the Upper Cumberland region’s most valuable economic resources. Dependable water and sewer have an immediate impact on the quality of life for families and make it possible for local businesses to have good jobs.
During Padalino’s second Earth Day celebration in Monterey, Tenn., resident Shannon Davis told the story of how for 15 years her family had to haul water in jugs from her parents’ house for drinking and cooking, because their water supply had become contaminated. USDA financing made it affordable for the town of 2,800 to extend water service another five miles out into the Walker Hollow area of Putnam County where the Davis family lives.
Padalino noted that, nationwide, USDA is helping to fund 116 water and wastewater projects in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This record level of Earth Day investments in rural water and wastewater systems is made possible by $150 million in grants provided by the 2014 Farm Bill in addition to annual funding from USDA. The assistance will improve water quality and help protect the environment and natural resources.
Climate change is putting more stress on municipal water systems. Many areas around the country have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, declines in snowpack, intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. All of these are placing fiscal strains on communities – causing them to make more frequent, and often more expensive, repairs and upgrades.
Today, Padalino is participating in Earth Day observances in Portland and Westmoreland, Tenn., where USDA involvement has helped solve local water and sewer challenges. In the growing city of Portland, USDA staff helped city officials ensure an adequate water supply without compromising the health of the creek and watershed. Instead of blocking a stream to create a back-up reservoir, pipes and pumps are now used to "harvest" water from the stream to be stored in the existing reservoir at times when the water level is up, like after a rain.
In the small town of Westmoreland, USDA has financed a water storage tank and water line extensions. One of the projects also made improvements that make it easier for the city to monitor the entire system, reducing operating costs and helping to detect leaks early.
Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about the role each person can play to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment. Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has expanded to include citizens and governments in more than 195 countries.
USDA Rural Development invests in jobs, infrastructure, community development, health, education, homeownership and affordable rental housing to improve the lives of people in rural areas and the economic health of rural communities. During the last four years, the agency has assisted more than 1.5 million Tennessee families and businesses in 158 communities, investing more than $3.7 billion into local economies through affordable loans, loan guarantees and grants.
For more information on USDA Rural Development programs available in the Upper Cumberland region, contact the Cookeville Area Office at (931) 528-6539 x2, or (800) 342-3149 x1493, or visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/TN.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).