A federal-state partnership that began in 1996 to improve drinking water safety has brought nearly $100 million in federal loan funds and state matching funds to Oregon communities, according to public health officials at the state Department of Human Services.
Locally, Odell Water Company was awarded a loan in the amount of $1,256,831, for the removal of nitrate from the water system.
Most of the water systems to benefit are small, though those in Springfield, Pendleton and Woodburn have also received loans.
“So far, $62 million in loans have been made to public water systems in 40 communities that will bring safer drinking water to more than 158,000 people,” said Dave Leland, drinking water program manager in DHS. “Many additional communities are lining up to use the rest of the money.”
The program is the Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund. Authorized by Congress in 1996, it made $9.6 billion available nationwide through 2003. In Oregon, DHS administers the fund through a partnership with the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department (OECDD).
Leland says the fund allows water suppliers to make improvements, many times involving major construction projects, that would not have otherwise been possible. “The bottom line is that these communities will be better able to comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency drinking water quality standards,” he says.
Drinking water safety improvements include installing new or improved water treatment plants, constructing new wells and storage tanks and replacing miles of pipeline. Several of the projects have been completed and as communities repay their loans, funds are made available to other communities.
“Our success is based on the specific expertise both we and DHS bring to the program,” says Jim Breithaupt, finance officer at OECDD. “Working together, we make low-interest loans to water systems throughout the state, helping improve drinking water safety and bringing money into the community.”
OECDD provides 20 percent in state matching funds and awards and manages the loans to Oregon communities. Community water suppliers submit their water improvement applications to DHS, where a priority list is developed.
Every year, Oregon applies to the EPA for its annual allotment of loan funds, according to Leland. “This is our seventh and final year of funding under the current legislation,” he says. “We fully expect congress to reauthorize the loan fund next year, because it has been such a succesful program nationwide.”
Information about the loan fund is on the Web at www.ohd.hr.state.or.us/dwp/srlf.htm or by calling 503-731-4010.