Author: Sara Edwards
DEQ has made it easier than ever for North Carolina communities to apply for the financial support they need for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater projects with a streamlined online application portal.
In past years, applicants for funding through the Division of Water Infrastructure mailed or hand-delivered binders of application materials to the Raleigh headquarters. That worked for the 150 to 175 applications the division normally receives, but the record-breaking Spring 2022 funding round brought in nearly 700 applications. It also sparked the need for a new process.
Now, local governments across the state can apply online for grants and low-interest loans, including the latest round of the American Rescue Plan Act funding. The overhaul of the application process by DEQ’s Project Management Office, nicknamed “Project: No Binders,” is one of the latest efforts to modernize Department operations and serve the state more efficiently.
“We are looking forward to the benefits of enabling online submittals of funding applications, especially the convenience it brings to applicants, making this important pathway to water infrastructure funding smoother and faster than ever,” said Shadi Eskaf, Director of the Division of Water Infrastructure.
Project: No Binders replaced the paper application requirement with an online portal, saving applicants paper, time, and the gas once required for the application delivery. Now applicants can use the online form to apply for DEQ’s water infrastructure grants by simply entering their information and uploading required documents. The new system is also more secure and more efficient for applicants and staff.
While the application form looks simple, it represents many hours of hard work and innovative thinking from DEQ’s project management and information technology teams.
The project began at the request of DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser, who saw the hundreds of binders delivered during the Spring 2022 funding round and directed the team to look for a better solution. DEQ staff immediately took on this challenge and a small team of IT and data experts brainstormed with the Division of Water Infrastructure staff. With the next funding round looming, they worked against the clock to bring the application process into the digital world. In about four months, the team not only designed and tested a new online application portal, they also built a digital dashboard that tracks applications in real time.
Now when the application period closes, division staff will no longer spend long hours manually entering and processing the submissions—the new system logs them automatically. This frees up valuable staff time for reviewing and scoring the applications. With the dashboard, staff can also see which counties applied for funding, the total amount requested, and data on the types of projects proposed. This information provides a snapshot of the water infrastructure funding requests from across the state and will help DEQ better track projects as they go from funding to permitting and construction.
“This is just the start,” said Miriam Patrocinio, DEQ Data Strategy Program Manager. “We want to use this data to tell a story about the people and communities in need, and how funds like the American Rescue Plan Act are protecting the environment and prosperity of North Carolina.”
After several rounds of testing and refining the application form and dashboard, the Project: No Binders team successfully delivered their online solution in time for the Fall 2022 funding round. Patrocinio estimates that use of the online system will save the Division of Water Infrastructure 140 staff hours, or about $30,000 in taxpayer money, compared to the Spring 2022 round. In recognition of this achievement, Secretary Biser awarded each team member a “Creativity and Innovation” challenge coin. Their work embodies the culture at DEQ that encourages innovative solutions and teamwork to achieve the Department mission on behalf of the people of North Carolina.
The Fall 2022 application period closes on Friday, September 30 at 5:00 p.m.