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State loans help Oklahoma cities fix water systems

Oklahoma City — Ten rural Oklahoma communities got early Christmas gifts this year, in the form of loans and grants to improve their water and sewage systems.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved about $36.7 million in loans to eight rural water authorities on Dec. 6, two days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered about $3.3 million in loans and $1.1 million in grants for two eastern Oklahoma projects.

Joe Freeman, chief of financial assistance at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said the loans could save cities significantly over time. For example, Eufaula Public Works received about $7.2 million to replace about 11 miles worth of water lines, replace fire hydrants and add shut-off valves. If it had taken out a typical commercial loan, the city would have paid about $2.3 million more over the course of 30 years to do the same project, he said.

Jacob Foos, city manager of Eufaula, said the 3.25 percent interest rate and 30-year span to repay the loan will make it easier to carry out major repairs, because the city won't need to come up with as much cash each year. It's urgent to start the work, because the city has to shut off water service to the entire system when a line breaks, closing schools and businesses, he said.

“We probably couldn't do it without it,” he said. “Water's really our number one issue right now.”

Other entities that received loans were:

Duncan Public Utilities Authority, $11.3 million

Tahlequah Public Works Authority, $8.9 million

Broken Arrow Municipal Authority, $4.3 million

Wetumka Municipal Authority, $3.8 million, including $1.1 million in grants

Lake Region Electric Development Cooperative, $580,000

Weleetka Public Works Authority, $400,000

Elk City Public Works Authority, $191,000

Minco Municipal Authority, $44,323

Tipton Public Works Authority, $22,000

The Environmental Protection Agency grants the state about $10 million to $12 million each year for loan programs, and the state raises 20 percent in matching funds by selling bonds, Freeman said.

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(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›