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Extended Story: EPA awards $19.5M in stimulus money to Miss.

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $19.5 million in stimulus money to Mississippi to help upgrade aging water systems.

The EPA said the money will help the state and local governments finance many overdue water improvement projects.

“This award marks a significant investment of EPA funds” in Mississippi, Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator in Atlanta, said in a news release. “We are embarking on an unprecedented effort to create green jobs and protect human health and the environment.”

The funding is sorely needed because portions of the state’s water infrastructure date back five decades, Keith Allen, director of water supply for the Mississippi Department of Health, said Thursday.

“A lot of our rural water systems began in the 60s and 70s. You have a lot of material and infrastructure in those systems that can be up to 50 years old,” Allen said. “This money will hopefully alleviate some of that, but it’s not nearly enough to alleviate all of it.”

The EPA will award $2 billion for drinking water infrastructure projects across the country in the form of low-interest loans, principal forgiveness and grants.

At least 20 percent of the stimulus funds will be used for green projects, water and energy efficiency improvements and other environmentally innovative projects, the EPA said.

Mississippi typically gets around $8.5 million annually in EPA grants, Allen said. While the extra $19.5 million in stimulus money will help, he said, it will not be nearly enough to tackle all the projects on the state’s priority list filed with the EPA.

Including projects being planned and projects ready to begin, the state has requested more than $200 million in loans, Allen said.

Allen said he’s hopeful the Obama administration will increase the amount of annual EPA water grants to Mississippi to help upgrade aging systems. “But there are plenty of people I guess standing in line to get those funds,” he said.

Last week, the EPA awarded $356,700 to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to help prevent water pollution.