EPA grants Iowa millions to address water quality

Money helps fund drinking water, wastewater projects

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has again granted millions of dollars to Iowa’s revolving loan funds geared toward water quality efforts.

The EPA earlier this month announced a $12.3 million grant to Iowa’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a loan program that focuses on financing water projects deemed necessary to protect public health and the environment, according to a November news release.

The EPA also committed $17.9 million to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that provides similar funding but for wastewater treatment, sewer rehabilitation and stormwater improvement projects.

The grants represent a trending decline in federal funds over the last several years, but Patti Cale-Finnegan, state revolving fund program manager with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said those dollars are leveraged over multiple projects — which are paired with local funding — and help address water quality issues across the state.

“Those infusions of capital from the federal government help us keep our interest rates lower than the market. It just helps us keep projects more affordable for our communities,” Cale-Finnegan said. “Even though, dollar wise, it’s small compared to everything we do in a year’s time, it’s still very important for helping us keep the programs as affordable as possible.”

The EPA sets standards for water quality and provides a level of funds — through the drinking water and clean water grant programs — to states to meet those standards.

“Clean drinking water and proper wastewater treatment are fundamental to protecting people’s health, but aging water infrastructure needs to be upgraded and repaired,” Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator, said in a November news release. “Making investments like these will allow Iowa to protect water quality across the state.”

The EPA provided to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund about $12.4 million last year, $13.1 million in 2015 and $13.2 million in 2014.

The state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund received about $18.1 million last year, $18.9 million in 2015 and nearly $19 million in 2014.

LaTonya Sanders, with EPA’s Region 7 office in Kansas, said in an email that grant funds fluctuate from year to year based on the EPA’s budget.

Using that revolving fund, the Iowa DNR earlier this year offered a Johnson County housing development near Solon a 75-percent forgivable loan to address concerns of high arsenic levels in the development’s well. A decision has not yet been reached on the matter.

Other projects to receive grant funding in recent years include North Liberty’s new water treatment plant and sanitary sewer repairs in Clarence.

In addition to funding projects, Cale-Finnegan said the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund also helps fund the DNR’s field offices and water quality enforcement efforts.

“On the drinking water side, that (capital) grant is important for those two different reasons, not only for the loan fund itself, but to sustain the activities that we do around the state to ensure people are getting safe drinking water,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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