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posted: 6/12/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: Help on the horizon for water, flooding problems

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A new water policy advanced by Gov. Pat Quinn and of special interest to many suburbs prone to flooding has passed both houses of the legislature without any opposition.

But there's a wrinkle. The new developments -- which make $1 billion in loan guarantees available to communities that need to upgrade the infrastructure of their water systems -- can't take effect until the standards of the legislation are adapted to regulations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

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That in itself is not an onerous assignment. To some extent, it's what the IEPA and other regulators do. But the situation is complicated by the fact that IEPA already is working on another, related initiative designed to help communities find sources of waste in our drinking water.

Experts say Illinois communities are losing millions of gallons of treated water a year because of leaky pipes and other infrastructure problems. So, communities have a very practical motive for repairing their systems, and there's legitimate cause for urgency both for them and for the regulators who oversee the funding and the work. Yet, with so-called 50- and 100-year floods seeming to happen every decade or so, communities throughout the suburbs also have cause for urgency on installing and implementing protections against flooding.

So, the timing is complicated. But it's also important. Last April, a series of Daily Herald stories chronicled the disruption, anxiety and hardships suburban residents continue to experience a year after devastating flooding in the spring of 2013. Our stories pointed out that federal agencies have provided more than $167 million to individuals and another $33 million to local municipalities to help pay for costs incurred from those floods alone.

The new state program, created in Senate Bill 2780, leverages existing emergency funding sources so that communities can get low-cost loans to take up flooding-prevention projects that better manage stormwater drainage in streets, new construction and sewer systems. Because it uses existing federal and state funding sources, the program has virtually no effect on the state budget.

Robert Moore, senior water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told our editorial board this week that the new legislation, sponsored by Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski in the Senate and Northbrook Democratic Rep Elaine Nekritz in the House, not only dramatically increases the pool of money available for so-called "green infrastructure," it also could enable communities to leverage even more money through loan guarantees from the state.

In short, this is one of those little-known examples of good work coming out of the legislature that costs little and enjoys truly bipartisan support. Now it's up to communities to begin taking advantage of the new resources and to regulators to complete the bureaucratic foundation that will let them.

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