ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska may get more federal money next year for plumbing in rural Alaska homes.
A joint House-Senate committee last week approved an agriculture spending bill that includes $24 million for rural Alaska water and sewer projects. That's in addition to $40 million in another bill approved by Congress last week and brings the federal total to $9 million more than was approved last year.
Although nearly 75 percent of Alaska homes now have flush toilets, the percentage of unplumbed homes is still the highest in the country. The state's goal is to bring water and wastewater service to all households by 2005.
Money approved this year will build new systems in villages now served only by central watering points, said Dan Easton, director of facility construction and operation for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The money also will extend service to homes in communities with limited systems, Easton said. To get it, the state must provide a one-third match.
''We'll be working with governor's office to prepare a list that will likely include about 70 rural sanitation projects,'' Easton said.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is also building sanitation infrastructure using separate federal funds.
The agriculture spending bill includes about $125 million for Alaska, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
The bill still must be approved a final time by both houses of Congress before it goes to the president for signing. It funds rural development and farming programs, but also helps Alaska logging and fishing industries.
The bill provides:
-- $25 million to bring Internet access to communities without dial-up service. To qualify, rural communities must have an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, so it is expected to primarily benefit Alaska. The construction and service grants would go to telecommunication and cable companies.
-- $49.44 million for distance learning and telemedicine programs, with Alaska grant requests receiving priority consideration.
-- $30 million for energy projects in communities where the energy cost is twice the national average.
-- $1.1 million for seafood marketing, harvesting and processing.
-- $630,000 to develop alternative salmon products.
-- $720,000 for seafood waste research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
-- About $600,000 to develop Alaska wood products, in addition to funding from the Forest Service of $1.5 million for that purpose.
-- $500,000 for reforestation in areas of high spruce bark beetle kill.
-- $1.5 million to expand the number of Alaska field offices of the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service.
-- $600,000 for virus-free potato germplasm research at the University of Alaska.
-- Nearly $1 million for UAF research on pest management for northern crops.
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