071923 Ag Rural Water Hearing
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith Explores Improving USDA Rural Water Programs.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today explored how the 2023 Farm Bill can maintain and improve rural water programs that serve a large segment of the population in Mississippi and across rural America.

Hyde-Smith participated in a Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy hearing titled, Rural Water: Modernizing our Community Water Systems.  It was among an ongoing series of hearings related to writing legislation to authorize USDA agricultural, rural development, forestry, and nutrition programs through 2028.

“Rural water is a topic of utmost importance to Mississippi, and it is critical to discuss how the next Farm Bill should be written to address the compliance, workforce, cybersecurity, and other challenges facing rural water associations and the people they serve,” Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith praised actions taken by rural water associations to relieve regions of Mississippi damaged by tornadoes in March and asked how the Circuit Rider Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture technical assistance program, can be improved to support emergency response efforts.

“When tornadoes blew through Mississippi just a couple of months ago, the rural water association responded instantly to help,” Hyde-Smith noted.

Robert N. White IV of the Alabama Rural Water Association, who testified on behalf of the National Rural Water Association, advocated expanding and funding Circuit Rider personnel detailed specifically toward emergency response to help rural water associations improve disaster preparedness and mitigation plans.

Hyde-Smith, who secured FY2022 appropriations for the Mississippi Rural Water Association to launch an apprentice program, also asked White to address the workforce recruitment and development challenges faced by rural water systems, which need personnel to operate and maintain service while adhering to government regulations and emerging threats like cyberattacks.

“I am really passionate about keeping young people in rural America, but we have to provide something for them.  One way to do that is promoting and encouraging career and technical education to help us out here.  It is great to see the rural water apprenticeship program in Mississippi really taking off down there.  How can Congress help ensure these workforce challenges are met in rural America’s water industry, particularly when it comes to recruitment, training, and retention?” Hyde-Smith asked.

White encouraged the committee to increase resources for recruitment, training, and retention programs to provide a structured platform for proactively engaging potential rural water and wastewater workers. 

“Just continuing to support the resources that are available now with training that’s offered through the technical assistance provisions in the farm bill is huge asset to rural water systems throughout the country,” White said.  

Hyde-Smith and White also discussed how to alleviate burdens arising from the funding application process for water and wastewater projects.