NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Sections of Tennessee’s water system are in disrepair, and communities are feeling the effects, especially during extreme weather. 

Meanwhile, help is on the way thanks to the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act distributed through Covid-19 relief efforts. 

Tennessee received more than $6 billion and more than $1 billion was awarded to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

$1.3 billion of that was pumped into Tennessee’s strained water system.

“The way we’ve considered it, is once in a generational opportunity to really be able to invest in water infrastructure,” said Paula Mitchell, Deputy Director of Operations, Division of Water Resources.

The infrastructure, in some cases, is connected by aging, brittle pipes.

“These extreme weather events really hit home,” she said, like last December, when an arctic blast drove temperatures below zero for the first time in nearly three decades.

“Many citizens were directly impacted by not having access to water or broken pipes. And so a lot of our community systems had to issue boil water advisories during that phase as they were trying to recover and get back online,” said Mitchell.

TDEC recently offered $1 billion to communities statewide and awarded about $993 million in funding requests to all 95 counties and 267 cities that applied.

“We had a 99% participation, which is really unprecedented,” she explained.

The money will be funding 1,119 projects, including 605 on drinking water, 399 on wastewater, 115 on storm water.

“I think it will help to put nearly 100% of all communities at a place where they have substantially conducted planning and asset management so that they understand the big picture and long-term goals,” she said.

Another focus for TDEC is helping Tennessee identify its water systems.

“When communities or citizens are experiencing the impacts of weather or the aging of infrastructure, communities, and systems can go identify where that problem is because they’ve logged or inventoried their assets and mapped them,” Mitchell said.

She added it is common for cities to not have a blueprint of their water system.

“We recognize this as a tool that will help them operate and maintain systems into the future better,” she said.

Phase II of the funding distribution project will come in late spring with $200 million up for grabs.

“We will offer three competitive grants to counties, cities, utility districts, as well as nonprofits and in some cases, private entities may be eligible.” She continued, “They include regionalization projects, and water reuse projects, and natural resource protection.”

All ARP funds must be awarded by December of 2024 and projects completed by the end of 2026.

Funding for TDEC to inventory and to replace lead service lines will arrive in 2024, which will eliminate lead from drinking water systems.

For a full list of water system projects, go to this link for more information.