The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a grant of $4 million to The University of New Mexico's Southwest Environmental Finance Center at a ceremony Monday, July 24.
The Investing in America event was held in the Centennial Engineering Center’s Stamm Commons on the UNM campus.
The grant is the first part of a total of $10 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to be awarded over five years. The center will use the grant to help small, disadvantaged communities build capacity to develop, maintain and operate water infrastructure. With the funding, the Southwest Environmental Finance Center will provide technical assistance to small and disadvantaged communities and systems within Region 6 to assist them with building financial, managerial and technical capacity. The intent is to ultimately provide them with technical assistance that may lead to an infrastructure application through state revolving funds.
Region 6 includes New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, as well as 66 Tribal nations.
Among those who attended were Earthea Nance, EPA Region 6 administrator; U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernández; Heather Himmelberger, director of UNM’s Southwest Environmental Finance Center; Ellen Fisher, UNM vice president for research; Donna Riley, Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing at UNM; and Edl Schamiloglu, UNM School of Engineering associate dean for research and innovation.
In addition, staff from the offices of U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, and U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, also attended.
Ellen Fisher, UNM’s vice president for research, said that this funding will not only boost the university’s research in this crucial field but also New Mexico and the nation.
"UNM recognizes the critical importance of water to our state and our nation, and we are proud to be contributing to the positive legacy this investment will produce, not only in New Mexico, but across the country," Fisher said. "This grant will allow our researchers at Southwest Environmental Finance Center the opportunity to enhance not only our knowledge and experiences in the realm of water, but also to engage and enable others in the communities around us, ultimately contributing to their knowledge and know-how around water-related experiences."
Heather Himmelberger, director of the Southwest Environmental Finance Center, said she has worked in water research for more than 35 years and has witnessed a growth in the interest and urgency of this topic.
“I can honestly say that nothing compares to what is happening now. This truly is water’s moment,” Himmelberger said. “Never before have so many pieces come together to focus on the needs of water across the country. We have funding to invest in infrastructure, money and resources to assist communities in accessing the funds and building their technical, managerial and financial capabilities for the long term, and a commitment to provide this assistance, particularly to communities who have far too often been left behind. We are so excited to be here today celebrating the kickoff of our work in Region 6 that is part of this overall effort to improve the lives of our citizens.”
The UNM center was among 29 EFCs around the country to receive funding recently as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will help underserved communities that have historically struggled to access federal funding receive the support they need to gain resources for water infrastructure improvements. The EPA is awarding up to $150 million in grants to EFCs over the next five years, once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $98 million of the total investment through EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), with the remainder of funds coming from EPA appropriations.
The Southwest Environmental Finance Center is a part of the Center for Water and the Environment and the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and offers a variety of services that promote self-reliance through innovative training. Among the center’s services are Tribal water operator certification, asset management for green and gray infrastructure; GIS mapping; rates studies and financial sustainability; affordability; managerial assistance; process development; resiliency; regulatory research and analysis; and energy management.
“The Center for Water and the Environment is so proud of Heather Himmelberger and the Southwest Environmental Finance Center for getting these latest EPA awards,” said Andrew Schuler, professor and director of the Center for Water and the Environment. “These substantial grants will be critical to helping small communities in our region, including in New Mexico, to get the technical assistance they need to protect public health through safe drinking water, environmental protection and other projects. The SWEFC has an outstanding track record with providing such assistance to small communities, and it’s great that the Center for Water and the Environment and UNM will be making a real difference in improving lives of New Mexicans and others in the Southwest.”
About the Environmental Finance Centers Grant Program
Many communities with significant pollution challenges and infrastructure needs have not been able to access federal funding and financing programs to address these concerns. EPA recognizes that existing environmental gains cannot be preserved, nor further progress achieved, unless states, Tribes, and local governments, and non-governmental organizations have the resources to develop and sustain environmental projects.
Through the EFC grant program, technical assistance providers will help communities develop and submit project proposals, including State Revolving Fund applications for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding and greenhouse gas reduction projects through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. EFCs will support underserved communities with technical assistance to identify sustainable infrastructure solutions. These entities will provide states, Tribes, and local governments or water systems with technical assistance services to advance equitable health and environmental protections.