April 04, 2023

U.S. EPA, Congressional Leaders Visit Rockford To Announce Funding For Drinking Water Improvements

Source: Rock River Current


ROCKFORD — The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and congressional leaders stopped in the city Tuesday to announce more than $332 million in funding to improve water infrastructure in Illinois and ensure access to safe drinking water.

That funding, in part, will help replace lead service lines to prevent the toxic metal from filtering into the water system. When consumed in large quantities, lead can cause kidney and cardiovascular issues and otherwise harm the nervous system. Low doses that wouldn’t harm an adult can pose risk to a child, according to the EPA.

“What we’re talking about here is drinking water that’s safe for children who should not be exposed to lead at all. At all,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said during a news conference at the city’s new Unit Well 39 Radium Treatment Plant on Spring Brook Road.

There are more than 13,000 known lead service lines in the city, according to Public Works Director Kyle Saunders. There have been more than 1,400 replaced over the past three years, and the goal is to tackle at least 500 a year going forward, he said.

“Historic investments like the one that we’re here talking about today allow for the needed improvements to our aging waterworks system and helps us take steps forward to delivering safe drinking water to all of our residents,” Mayor Tom McNamara said.

McNamara said more than $160 million in water infrastructure projects are planned in the city in the next five years. That’s the largest amount in the city’s history.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Illinois has the largest concentration of lead service lines in the entire country.

“We have 23% of the entire nation’s lead service lines … and most of it is here in northern Illinois,” Duckworth said.

Congress banned the installation of lead service lines in 1986, but most lines installed before then were never removed.

“So we are now faced with replacing all of these lead service lines,” said Duckworth, who wrote the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which passed with bipartisan support.

The funding is made possible by the $6.5 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal that funds new roads, bridges, rail lines, high-speed internet access and expands access to safe drinking water.

“Our water systems are strained and have been for far too long,” U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said. “Investing in our water means protecting public health and the environment while creating jobs and securing our nation’s economic vitality.

“It means repairing aging infrastructure so that it can withstand emerging and worsening challenges like climate change.”

The money comes to Illinois as part of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which helps public water systems improve drinking water by providing municipalities with low-interest loans.

The site of Tuesday’s news conference, the Unit Well 39 Radium Treatment Plant on Spring Brook Road, was paid for with the help of that fund. The $6 million plant, which is set to go online this summer, replaces a previous facility that didn’t treat water. The new plant filters out iron, manganese and radium. 

“We were seeing the levels trend up,” Saunders said. “We weren’t non-compliant, which just saw a trend that we wanted to address before it became an issue.”

Saunders led a tour for Regan, Illinois EPA Director John Kim, Duckworth, U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen and Durbin through the new treatment plant. They also stopped on Ferguson Street where a lead service line was being replaced.

The infrastructure bill provides a total of $3 billion in lead service line identification and replacement across the country, as well as $800 million to address PFAS and other contaminants, and $2.2 billion in other drinking water system improvements.

“We will not rest until every person in this country has access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water,” Regan said.

By:  Kevin Haas