Following Flint crisis, Illinois USDA officials talk about water systems

By Gary Scott on January 28, 2016 at 2:43pm

With all the news about the contaminated water causing problems for Flint, Michigan, a lot of West Central Illinoisans may be thinking about the quality of water in their local community.

In fact, most of our water systems are between fifty years and a century old, and in need of upgrading to remain safe and reliable, according to Colleen Callahan, Illinois Director of USDA Rural development.

“It’s sort of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. We don’t see the pipes that are underground. It’s those water lines, when you stop to think that were built in the 30s, and out of cast-iron, and asbestos cement, they need to be addressed and tended to and improved, upgraded, and/or replaced,” says Callahan.

USDA Rural development helps finance water system upgrades for communities of ten thousand and under with a combination of grants and loans. The loans can be up to 40 years, and offer rates of about two percent. Mike Wallace is community program director with USDA rural development in Illinois.

“We get a percentage of direct loans, grants, and we also have guaranteed loans that we can use towards these projects, and some projects will take a combination of loan and grant,” says Wallace.

“We typically look at what the entity can afford as far as loan funds, and then, are their rates reasonable, are they comparable, and then we have grant money to make up the difference to whatever is not affordable,” he adds.

For more information on USDA funding for community water systems, check out the rural development website, or contact the Illinois office in Champaign/Urbana.