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Corinne Chin/MEDILL

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn introduced the $1-billion Illinois Clean Water Initiative Thursday.

Governor Quinn announces $1-billion Clean Water Initiative

by Corinne Chin
Oct 18, 2012

Gov. Pat Quinn announced on Thursday an initiative to make available $1 billion of loans to improve drinking water and wastewater infrastructure over the next two years, creating an estimated 28,500 jobs.

“We have to make sure that our drinking water is safe,” Quinn said in a ceremony held on the shores of Lake Michigan behind Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

Illinois is $15 billion behind on drinking water system repairs, the fourth largest backlog in America, according to the EPA. The state also ranks sixth in deferred maintenance for wastewater systems. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Illinois water infrastructure is among the oldest in the country.

“Ours is a state that has really been defined by waterways,” said Claude Walker, a longtime Quinn aide. “There was a lot of older infrastructure that was neglected for decades and decades. It’s been ‘out of sight, out of mind’ until the water main is burst and the street is flooding.”

The EPA estimates that Illinois will need to invest $32 billion into water infrastructure over the next decade.

The Clean Water Initiative will make low-cost loans available to local governments who apply for funding with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The funding comes from current loan repayments in the State Revolving Fund, and not from new state dollars. The new initiative increases available funds from $300 million to $1 billion, which will alleviate Illinois’s current backlog of applications.

“Our agency is ready to apply our resources to working with communities statewide on drinking water and wastewater loans,” said John Kim, interim director of the Illinois EPA.

The initiative is expected to create 28,500 new jobs when construction begins next spring. Workers such as pipefitters, plumbers, operating engineers, electricians and carpenters will account for 9,500 of those jobs.

“In these tough economic times, I’m particularly proud that Governor Quinn’s Clean Water Initiative will put thousands of men and women of the unionized building and construction trades back to work,” said Christopher Meister, executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority.

Debra Shore, commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, said she is looking forward to improvements, especially in conjunction with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s investments in the water and sewer infrastructure.

“I hope the initiative will help us install more green infrastructure,” Shore said. “When you save water, you save energy.”

Local governments can apply for funds at below-market rates at throughout the winter months. There is no deadline for applications. The initiative will be phased in over a two-year period.