HANFORD — The release of a pile of federal cash held by the state for water quality improvements could help struggling Kings County communities.

The California Department of Public Health announced this week that it will be disbursing $455 million in federal money that was sitting unused in the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chastised the state agency in April for not spending the money on needy projects.

Among those is an ongoing problem in Armona, where the community services district is struggling to get the drinking water in compliance with state arsenic standards.

“It’s promising, because they’ve been sitting on the money,” said Ed Bittner, vice chairman of the Armona Community Services District. “Now that they’re actually having to give it out, yeah, that’s promising.”

Armona has been unable to consistently keep its drinking water below an arsenic concentration of 10 parts per billion. As a result, it faces the threat of huge fines from the federal government if it doesn’t comply.

Currently, the district is charging residents higher water rates to pay for existing and planned infrastructure improvements. If the state fund distributes grant money to the district, it would save residents from seeing more rate increases, Bittner said.

“Right now, everything we do is based on the fact that we’re probably going to have to take out a big loan,” Bittner said. “That’s why our water rates are so high.”

Another community facing major water problems is Kettleman City, whose impoverished residents have been stuck for years drinking water laced with benzine and arsenic. But the county is unlikely to get additional money from the state, according to Kings County planner Chuck Kinney.

The state has already committed $8 million to help pay for an $11 million plant to suck water out of the California Aqueduct, treat it and pipe it into Kettleman City residences. The county and the Kettleman City Community Services district will front the rest.

The plant is expected to go online in 2015.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@hanfordsentinel.com.

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