Quinn expands Clean Water Initiative


Brady Cremeens
Illinois News Network

OAK LAWN — Municipalities looking to address flooding issues and clean up drinking water have expanded access to resources as a result of the expansion of the Clean Water Initiative – a government-funded program created in 2012.

On Wednesday, Quinn signed legislation that makes local stormwater management and treatment projects available for added state financial assistance.

“During last year’s record rainfall and flooding, we learned the hard lesson that flash flooding can have devastating effects,” Governor Quinn said in a statement. “The Illinois Clean Water Initiative will now be able to help communities be more prepared than ever before in managing stormwater while creating thousands of construction jobs. This legislation will help to prevent flooding and protect our drinking water from pollution.”

The Clean Water Initiative originally provided $1 billion in state funds for drinking and wastewater infrastructure programs to local government bodies. In his January 2014 State of the State speech, Quinn announced that he was upping the funding to $2 billion.

The initiative also allows local municipalities to secure low-interest loans for projects related to water treatment and disaster prevention. This week’s bill expands the Clean Water Initiative to include stormwater and green infrastructure programs.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, sponsored the bill in the Senate, and said the move is important as it enables cities and villages in Illinois to prevent costly and dangerous storm damage.

“In light of recent floods throughout Illinois, it is especially critical that we fund projects to improve stormwater treatment,” Kotowski said.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, sponsored the bill in the House and echoed Kotowski’s sentiment.

“This is an important step as we work in Springfield to embrace cleaner water and a greener Illinois,” Nekritz said. “By treating stormwater more effectively, we improve the quality of life for our residents and work to limit the damage that flooding causes far too often here.”

Rob Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Illinois has already seen major flooding throughout the state this year, and legislation likes this allows communities to combat the damage heavy rains and flooding can cause.

Flooding can damage wastewater and drinking water systems, according to Moore, and this law “emphasizes water efficiency, green infrastructure and other proven techniques that will make Illinois more resilient and prepared for the future,” he said.

The Governor signed the legislation in Oak Lawn, a community that will utilize $12.7 million in low-interest loan assistance as part of a $171 million nine-project Regional Water System Improvement effort.

Quinn’s office said “these projects ensure that facilities are being upgraded to protect our streams and rivers, drinking water supplies and the environment as a whole,” and deserve the large amount of funding they’re receiving.

Lisa Bonnett is the director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and praises the legislation as a big step in the right director toward keeping Illinois communities safe and ensuring storm damage is minimized.

“Expansion of the Governor’s Clean Water Initiative will provide local governments with the ability to secure low-interest loans for capital projects that will prevent flooding and remove pollutants from stormwater,” she said.

The bill allows the IEPA to provide financial assistance specifically for storm sewers and other stormwater-related necessities through a series of three interest-bearing programs created within the legislation.

The criteria for loan approval includes proving the project will be directly related to creating or improving floodwater capacity systems, water safety facilities, “green” storm shelters, water distribution efficiency systems, and/or pollution removal.

It makes “significant improvements in water quality in our state,” Bonnett said.

While Democrats alone shared Senate and House co-sponsorship, the bill passed with unanimous support in both the House and Senate chambers in the spring legislative session, and is effective immediately.