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A portion of the $170 million in Flint-inspired aid approved by Congress in December is now being made available to Flint and other communities.

The new federal loan assistance program is offering $17 million to communities such as Flint that could lead to up to $1 billion to help communities deal with crucial water infrastructure projects.

The city’s long-running water crisis has Flint and state officials looking to address, among other things, underground pipeline replacement and treatment projects. Residents have been unable to drink their tap water with confidence since April 2014.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the availability of the new funding through its Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Direct loans and loan guarantees will be made available to qualifying communities with minimum project values of $20 million.

Federal officials intend for the $17 million program to help the governments leverage funding at a 50-1 ratio.

“The launch of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program marks a huge step forward for modernizing our nation’s aging water infrastructure,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a Tuesday statement. “WIFIA gives us a new opportunity to provide billions of dollars in low-interest loans to communities to build large infrastructure projects, significantly accelerating investments that benefit our nation’s public health and water security for generations to come.”

Projects that qualify for the federal loan program include:

Drinking water treatment or distribution.

Wastewater transportation and treatment.

Energy efficiency efforts at water and wastewater facilities.

Desalination, aquifer restoration, water recycling and secondary water sourcing.

Drought prevention, reduction or mitigation.

“These federal funds, a result of the bipartisan Flint aid bill passed by Congress, will go a long way in helping communities in Michigan and across the country update their water systems and provide clean drinking water,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, in an email response to questions.

“In the richest country in the world, access to clean drinking water should be a right afforded to all, not a privilege for some.”

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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