How to successfully secure funding for your critical infrastructure projects

April 12, 2024
Joe Mouawad, general manager at Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD), gives a detailed look on successfully securing grants and putting them to good use.

Over the past two decades Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) has leveraged strategic partnerships into hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans funding that benefit its nearly 1 million customers. 

For the team at EMWD, this is one of the core tenants of its board-adopted Strategic Priorities. 

By ensuring that they diligently work to return their customers’ tax dollars back to the rapidly growing service area, the team is acting as a good financial steward by reducing capital costs to support infrastructure development and providing a broad range of benefits to public and environmental health to the region’s water supplies. 

But these successes do not happen overnight. Instead, they are strategic efforts that involve understanding long-term organizational needs, community growth, and in building and sustaining trust with legislators and funding agencies through a commitment to transparency and accountability. 

For agencies seeking to have similar success in the grants and loans arena, these core values must be tackled with a sustained approach that will undoubtedly provide significant benefits for ratepayers to whom your respective agencies are accountable toward. 

In 2022, EMWD received more than $115 million in state and federal grants and loans to support a broad range of infrastructure projects for water, wastewater and recycled water. Over the past two decades, EMWD has received more than $700 million and is continuing to advocate for additional funding that will further programs in its region, which is the fastest growing in California during the more recent census period. 

Sustained approach

The roots of these successes stretch back over a generation and have become part of the organization's culture. Decades ago, EMWD sought out strategic partnerships with like-minded agencies that could help chart a vision for how the region would deliver services while successfully managing their resources.

An example of this was EMWD’s work with the United States Bureau of Reclamation in the 1990s. This partnership began with programs such as the San Jacinto Wetlands, where EMWD partnered with the Bureau to develop a pilot treatment facility for the treatment of secondary treated wastewater through a wetland's facility. Subsequently, the Bureau began supporting additional EMWD projects and programs, including providing significant financial support for the backbone infrastructure of what is now an expansive recycled water system.

In recent years, the Bureau and its parent organization, the United States Department of the Interior, have provided $27.5 million for EMWD’s planned Purified Water Replenishment program. In August 2023, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited EMWD to tour the site of the future Purified Water facility, which received $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

EMWD has had similar successes for its groundwater desalination program, which has received a broad range of in-kind facility construction from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and $22.5 million in grant funding from the State Water Resources Control Board for the construction of the Perris II Desalter. To date, EMWD has received more than $50 million in funding authorization from the Water Resources Development Act from the Army Corps of Engineers and is actively working toward another $50 million authorization.

Empowering relationships

EMWD has both a grants and loans team and a legislative advocacy team. These two groups continually collaborate to understand the planned infrastructure needs in long-term capital planning and to routinely meet with funding agencies and local legislators. These meetings are not solely focused on asking for funding support but can include all aspects of strategic partnerships. One example is that EMWD participated in pilot testing to reduce brine discharge in the treatment of recycled water. 

EMWD routinely meets with its legislators on the local, state and federal level. Each year, EMWD conducts dozens of briefings and facility tours with local elected officials as a way of building trust and affirming its commitment to providing a more sustainable future for the constituents they mutually serve. During those meetings, EMWD provides supporting materials, such as project funding fact sheets and booklets highlighting Capital Improvement Plan projects taking place within the respective legislative district. This enables the legislator to better understand the needs specific to their constituents and area, and support projects within their District. 

Because of EMWD’s long-term relationship building, it has seen a corresponding progression in the amount of grant funding received through earmark programs by local legislators. These funds include federal tax dollars that are project-specific and local support through county-driven appropriations of American Rescue Plan Act funding to help advance smaller local projects. Examples of this have been funding for the expansion of a modernized sewer system in the Temecula Valley Wine Country that will be more cost effective for vineyard owners and support the economic development of the region while protecting ground and surface water supplies by eliminating the reliance on septic systems. 

A replicable model

What EMWD is doing has been a methodical and long-term commitment. But that does not mean that other agencies should view these successes in the scope of scaling a large mountain. 

Identifying smaller grant opportunities through funding agencies is a critical first step toward building relationships and showing that your organization can be entrusted to put those funds toward beneficial use. From there, the process can continue and the relationships with funding partners and legislators will continue to grow, as will the results that your organization will see from the investments in people and partnerships. 

As part of our commitment to return our customers tax dollars to our area and reduce the financial burden of infrastructure development and expansion, EMWD is committed to furthering its relationships with regulatory and funding agencies, and the elected officials who mutually serve the region. 

About the Author

Joe Mouawad

Joe Mouawad has more than three decades of experience in the water industry and is the General Manager at Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD). He is responsible for overseeing daily operations of the organization, which employs more than 600 people and is responsible for providing high quality and reliable water, wastewater and recycled water service to nearly one million people in a 601-square mile service area in western Riverside County and northern San Diego County, California.