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US agency offers $307 million for rural water projects


The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release $307 million in grants and low-interest loans to modernize rural water infrastructure in 34 states and the territory of Puerto Rico.

OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO, NM — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release up to $307 million in grants and low-interest loans in an effort to modernize rural water infrastructure, officials announced Wednesday.

“Every community needs safe, reliable and modern water and wastewater systems,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement before visiting a small wastewater treatment plant run by an indigenous tribe in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, the Ohke Owingeh Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, will receive a $610,000 loan and a $1.6 million grant to improve its wastewater treatment plant. Federal officials say it will allow the tribe to expand the service to the more than 1,000 residents who are disconnected every day by treating 33% more water.

Vilsack was scheduled to visit the treatment plant with Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, which serves a majority Hispanic and Native American district.

“The consequences of decades of disinvestment in physical infrastructure have fallen the hardest on communities of color. That is why the USDA is investing in water infrastructure in rural and tribal communities that need it most to help build back better, stronger and more equitable than ever before,” Vilsack said. .

Among some minority communities, Vilsack has been the target of criticism for how he handled discrimination complaints during his tenure as Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama administration.

African American farmers were outraged by Biden’s appointment because of an unresolved flurry of civil rights complaints. But in March, Vilsack announced a program that would forgive the debts of ranchers of color.

A coalition of Hispanic and Native American ranchers in New Mexico complained in 2015 that they were being discriminated against through arbitrary revocation of grazing permits, agency compliance, policy, training and cultural Concerns validated by a report from the Office of Change.

One of them still holds the agency responsible for the deaths of his cows a decade ago.

“I had to eliminate 250 animals overnight,” said Dave Sanchez, 61, of Chama, north of the Ohke Owingeh pueblo.

He says that during the Obama administration, Vilsack turned down several requests to try and address the concerns of a large group of ranchers in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

“We are really disappointed in Vilsack for what he did in the Obama administration. I don’t know why he is coming to New Mexico. He didn’t want to meet with Hispanic ranchers. He shrugged off us,” Sanchez said on Tuesday. Said after knowing about it.

The agency did not respond to requests for comment on the outcome of the complaints.

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Attanasio is a core member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that hires journalists to report on issues covered in local newsrooms. Follow Atanasio on Twitter.

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