JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars could soon be making a massive impact in rural Washington County, Tennessee.
Monday night, Washington County commissioners authorized Mayor Joe Grandy to apply for a Tennessee State Water Infrastructure Grant (SWIG).
If the SWIG application is approved, the county would be awarded $6.3 million for water projects, with the county investing just over $700,000 of its American Rescue Plan funds into the project.
That $6.3 million comes from the state’s allocation of ARPA funds, according to Grandy.
Washington County does not supply its own water. Instead, portions of the county are supplied through Johnson City, Kingsport and Jonesborough’s water systems. But large swathes of the county, especially in rural areas, still do not have access to municipally treated tap water.
Grandy said the SWIG funding, if approved, would fund projects in each water district of the county. He also said it’s a great deal for the county by only having to pay 10% of the total project cost.
Water infrastructure has long been a priority in the county.
A water task force was formed in 2011 to address rural water needs. Grandy said the plans they will use in the grant have been in the works for years.
He said the county will be able to act upon them quickly after the funding is approved because they had an engineer scope out how to get as many people as possible water access while laying down the least amount of pipe.
“Washington County has been planning for water line extension really for over a decade,” Grandy said. “The planning that has gone in to get us where we are puts us way ahead of other counties.”
But Kevin Brobeck, the Town of Jonesborough utility manager, said those plans would not have come into fruition so quickly had the ARPA funds not been available.
“With the county funding it with the APRA money that was handed down through TDEC, the federal money, it’s really helping,” Brobeck said. “It’s really the driving force behind this.”
Brobeck said the projects in the grant include a pump station near Interstate 81 to increase water pressure in that area, booster station upgrades for Charlie Hicks Road and Bumpus Cove Road, and a new tank at Charlie Hicks.
Those would increase the capacity to add new water lines to areas that previously on had well water. That’s in addition to eight water projects that the county is currently working on. Work started on those in November.
Brobeck said the county is far ahead of schedule.
“We were supposed to get those done in four years, so we are actually on project number five,” Brobeck said. “We are probably 2,000 feet away from finishing it [project five] in the first year.”
Grandy said extending water lines also provide an opportunity for new land uses.
“This would change just basic farmland into potential places people could live,” Grandy said.
Homes in areas receiving upgrades are not required to connect to pipe water, but Brobeck said using well water can carry the risk of contamination.
“A lot of times you get sulfur smells in them and E. Coli,” Brobeck said. “With water, we got a treatment plant, and we’re fixing to update our treatment plant.”
Even if the grant is approved, Brobeck said the county still has a long way to go to reach its goal of extending water access to every home.
“You see roads that need water. We feel like every taxpayer deserves water,” Brobeck said.
He identified Northern Washington County as an area of particular need.