The Clean Water Partnership (CWP) loan program helps restore water quality in lakes and streams across Minnesota. Administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the zero-interest loans go to local partners and tribal nations for projects that reduce nonpoint source pollution from diffuse sources such as failing septic systems and cropland runoff. Some examples:
- Improving on-site sewer systems in Itasca County to reduce sources of bacteria
- Removing water softeners — which are sources of chloride pollution — in the city of Lakefield
- Reducing nitrogen risks to drinking water wells in Rock County
The CWP program boasts quick turnaround times, continuous availability (rather than limited application periods), repayment over 10 years, and great facilitation by MPCA staffers Cindy Penny and Kurt Soular.
"We heard from people applying for these loans that they don't like filling out applications. So we changed the process to focus on describing the project and expected benefit(s) to water quality," says Penny.
They streamlined the process further for certain projects with two tracks for evaluating submissions: one for addressing septic system projects and another for all other nonpoint water quality improvement projects. "There's no question that [septic system] projects will have a beneficial impact on water quality, so those submissions go straight to an MPCA leadership team for review. We've had two of those receive approval within 24 hours of submission," Penny says.
All other submissions must include work plans, which are reviewed by MPCA watershed project managers who may offer suggestions or ask questions about the project. The MPCA leadership team also must sign off on the proposals. Even with additional review, these projects too are often approved quickly, some within a week or so, Penny says. All submissions require a local sponsor, such as a watershed district or tribal nation.
Nitrogen from nearby farmland is threatening drinking-water wells belonging to the Rock County Rural Water District near Luverne. The water district is using a CWP loan to purchase 120 acres to create a buffer zone between the wells and farmland. “Removing row crop production that requires additional nitrogen application, and putting it in grasslands in the wellhead area, we believe, will provide a great buffer for our wells, the Rock River, and improve wildlife habitat,” says Ryan Holtz, water district manager.
“We do all kinds of loans and grants through all kinds of different agencies and this was probably the easiest I’ve ever worked with,” Holtz says. “MPCA staff helped us through every step of the way. The whole process was very simple.”
Penny adds that because the loans are always available, applicants don’t have to be worry about lining up projects with an application period. “Projects like this sometimes don’t happen as land can often sell before a local government has time to submit applications for financing," she notes.
On June 16, Wright County’s environmental health department asked for county approval to apply for a CWP loan to continue a low-interest septic loan program it had taken over from another organization. The county board approved the resolution and, within two days, submitted an application for $500,000 to upgrade/replace approximately 30 septic systems. The MPCA approved the CWP loan request the same day it was received.
The CWP program is continuously open for applications, so local partners may apply at any time. See the Clean Water Partnership loans webpage for more information, or contact: Cindy Penny, 651-757-2099 or Kurt Soular, 651-757-2748.