- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York state plans to award $46 million in grants to local communities grappling with aging sewer systems, a dramatic increase from previous years.

The state’s Environmental Facilities Corp. said Wednesday that $46 million is the entire amount it is allowed to give to cities and towns under a new law that increased the amount the agency could award in grants as opposed to loans.

The announcement came after U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said he would urge the agency to increase the amount of grants, which he said would help towns and cities cover the cost of fixing antiquated sewer systems. New York is expected to face an estimated $37 billion worth of wastewater repairs and upgrades in coming decades.

“It’s one of the most important issues for our municipalities,” Schumer, D-New York, said on a conference call with reporters. “New York state has some of the oldest sewer systems in the country.”

The EFC had been limited to giving out less than 10 percent of the funds as grants. The rest was distributed as loans, meaning cash-strapped cities and towns had to repay the money along with interest.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul met with members of Congress last week to urge them to authorize more grants.

“Increased federal funding for clean water grants is needed,” EFC spokesman Jon Sorensen said. “We plan to award every penny authorized by Congress as we do every year.”

Drinking water infrastructure is another challenge, with an estimated $39 billion in upgrades needed in the coming decades.

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