LAKE ARIEL - The USDA Water and Environmental Program celebrated Earth Day by announcing more than $20 million in loans and grants to help the South Wayne County Water & Sewer Authority make infrastructure improvements.

"It's tremendous. We're thrilled and excited," said Jack Lennox, executive director of Roamingwood Sewer & Water Association, an agent of the South Wayne County Water & Sewer Authority.

Lennox said the money will be a "huge savings to ratepayers," though he didn't know offhand how much.

USDA official Jacqueline Ponti-Lazaruk said in a news release, “Projects like this one for South Wayne County safeguard our waterways from pollution and make rural communities healthier places to live, work and enjoy."

She added, "They also save or create good-quality jobs for residents of rural areas and provide opportunities to grow the local economy.”

Thanks to funding through the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA this year provided record support across the country for 116 projects that will improve water and wastewater services for rural Americans and benefit the environment, says a news release.

The South Wayne County Water & Sewer Authority is one of the recipients that received funding through the Farm Bill.

The authority is receiving assistance for two projects, including an $8.4 million loan and $5 million grant to replace a portion of its gravity sewer collection system.

The second project includes a $4.6 million loan and $2.3 million grant to replace leaking lines in a portion of the water distribution system that is more than 30 years old.

Lennox said Roamingwood has over 42 miles of piping for water and wastewater and the money will be a great boost for the project.

The executive director added that the news of the money came as a "huge surprise," noting that they expected the loans but not the grants.

"A grant of this amount is great for the community and it will have a really nice economic impact," Lennox said.

Lennox said Roamingwood is appreciative of the USDA and excited to get to work.

The loans and grants are the USDA’s largest Earth Day investment in rural water and wastewater systems.

Nearly $387 million is being awarded to 116 recipients in 40 states and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The department is providing $150 million in grants through the 2014 Farm Bill plus $237 million in loans and grants from USDA’s Water and Environmental Program.

The need for infrastructure improvements like these is increasing as climate change in particular is putting more stress on municipal water systems, according to the USDA.

Many areas around the country have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, declines in snowpack, intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.

All of these are placing a fiscal strain on communities, causing them to make more frequent, and often more expensive, repairs and upgrades, officials said.

Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about the role each person can play to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment.

Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has expanded to include citizens and governments in more than 195 countries.

According to a news release, President Barack Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities.

The investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way, strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities, officials said.

USDA, through its rural development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America, according to the release.