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Downs gets state loan to upgrade aging water infrastructure

A street lined with buildings, a railroad tracks sign and a water town with DOWNS inscribed on it.
The village of Downs has been awarded a $6.3 million loan for water treatment upgrades.

The village of Downs southeast of Bloomington-Normal will receive an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) loan to upgrade its aging water infrastructure.

The current water treatment plant is 30 years old, according to longtime Downs resident and current mayor Mike James.

James says the water issues are surface level, based on the appearance and taste of the water.

“You fill your bathtub up or you flush your toilet and you can see it looks like tea, or in some cases, it looks brown. That's not good, but it's not harmful to people. It's just not good quality water,” James said.

The reason James gives for the discoloration is an elevated level of tannins, or tannic acids in the water. Tannins are microscopic chemicals that leach into the watershed when natural materials break down in the vicinity. James notes the tannins are not harmful, but they do affect the taste and appearance of the water.

“Everybody who's been around forever is used to the water and used to what they put up with, but we're all definitely looking forward to having clean water and not have to worry about some of that stuff anymore,” James said.

The village is set to receive about $6.3 million in grant money for this project from the IEPA. The state will forgive $1.25 million of the loan's principal.

IEPA recently approved more than $571 million in water infrastructure loans to local governments and water districts throughout the state.

James said the village had to put off water treatment renovations for years because of cost and noted the price tag rose sharply since the before the COVID pandemic when the village last explored the project.

James assured property taxes won’t be affected, but residential water customers would see a spike of close to $16 on average on their monthly water bills. James says water rates in the village haven’t been raised since 2009.

“Because of how bad our water is, we just don't feel like we can really do that and hold a straight face to our residents when the water quality is not that good," James said.

The money granted to the village will allow for a new filter system, an organics removal system and water softening capabilities.

“Residents don't have to have water softeners anymore. So part of the increase that they will see will be offset by not having to pay for renting water softeners or hauling salt and that kind of stuff,” James said.

The project is expected to be completed by February 2025.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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