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Release Date: 01/27/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced $16.2 million in grants to help Rhode Island in its efforts to reduce water pollution and improve drinking water supplies and distribution systems.

The money, awarded to the RI Clean Water Finance Agency at a ceremony today at the Scituate Reservoir, will be used to make low-interest loans to communities all across the state.

The first loan, totaling $5 million, will be used by the Providence Water Supply Board to help finance improvements to its aging drinking water system. Other drinking water loan funds will help pay for upgrades and repairs to facilities in Pawtucket and Newport.

The EPA grants also include $5.4 million to help pay for a massive combined sewer overflow project that the Narragansett Bay Commission is undertaking to reduce the amount of sewage being discharged into the Woonasquatucket River and Upper Narragansett Bay. This project, which will cost a total of $165.5 million, will reduce discharges into the upper bay by nearly 40 percent and will result in many more shellfish beds being open for use.

"This grant money will help Rhode Island address some of its most serious water quality problems, including sewer overflows in Upper Narragansett Bay and failing septic systems in communities along the coastline," said Mindy S. Lubber, acting regional administrator for EPA New England. "This money will also help fund much-needed improvements for the state's public drinking water systems, many of which are in poor shape due to the age and condition of their distribution system."

Today's grant to Rhode Island will provide $9 million for water quality improvement loans, and $7 million for loans for drinking water infrastructure improvements. As required by federal regulation, the state has authorized matching grants of 20 percent, for an additional $3.2 million.

Among the priorities for the water quality improvement grant is the Woonasquatucket River, an American Heritage River that will serve as a model for the kind of improvements that can be made in polluted urban waterways.

"We are delighted to support these loans programs that will bring less polluted waterways to our urban rivers and Upper Narragansett Bay," said RI Governor Lincoln Almond. "The collaborative effort between the RI Department of Environmental Management and the EPA will allow us to focus on a number of water quality issues critical to the clean-up of the Woonasquatucket. This effort will also allow us to support wastewater projects and accomplish vital upgrades to drinking water systems across the state."

Through the federal Clean Water Act, grants have been available to states for improving water quality since 1989. A 1996 amendment to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act authorized grants to the states for improving the infrastructure of drinking water systems.

"These funds will let us continue offering low-interest loans for wastewater and drinking water projects across the state," said Anthony B. Simeone, executive director of the RI Clean Water Finance Agency. "We congratulate the City of Providence and the Providence Water Supply Board for being the first large water supplier to negotiate a loan from the fund for drinking water projects."

Lubber praised US Sen. John Chafee for playing a lead role in getting this funding approved.

"We all owe a special debt of gratitude to John Chafee for making these funds available - not just to Rhode Island, but to citizens all across the country," Lubber said. "As with all the important environmental statutes that came out of the nation's capital, Senator Chafee carried the day in getting the Safe Drinking Water Act passed and, more recently, getting the law amended in 1996 so loan funds could be used for drinking water improvements."

Since 1992, the RI Clean Water Finance Agency, which administers the loans, has provided a total of $190.3 million in low interest loans for water quality improvements. According to an EPA survey, Rhode Island needs a total of about $656 million worth of repairs and upgrades to its drinking water infrastructure.