More than 1,650 water customers living in the rural areas south and southwest of Leesville in Vernon Parish will soon have safer drinking water and better water pressure in their homes, thanks to a $2.575 million loan through the state’s Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund Program.

The Vernon Parish Water and Sewer Commission No. 1, which services an approximate 150-square-mile area west of the Fort Polk military base, is using the funds to install a new well, which will be able to produce 900 gallons of fresh drinking water per minute, and build a new elevated 250,000-gallon water storage tank.

At the same time, the commission will also replace some 13,000 feet of the water lines in the district, increasing the lines from 4-inch diameter pipes to 8-inch diameter pipes to improve water flow throughout the district.

“Plans are to construct the new well and storage tank off Wilson Loop, near the intersection of Arthur Frusha Road,” said Vernon Parish Water and Sewer Commission No. 1 Maintenance Manager Milton Midkiff.

“This investment, along with the upgrading of many of our pipes, will allow us to improve water pressure throughout the district, especially for those customers who live in the most rural areas of the district.”

Vernon Parish Water and Sewer Commission No. 1 President Susan Redmond said the system upgrades will also improve the district’s capacity, allowing for future growth in the area.

“Right now, we’re seeing some new residential growth north of Leesville and above the Fort Polk area, but we know that soon, some of that growth will come our way, and we want to make sure we can provide every water customer with quality drinking water,” Redmond said.

DWRLF Loan Manager Joel McKenzie said the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Public Health closed on the $2.575 million DWRLF loan with the Vernon Parish Water and Sewer Commission No. 1 on May 3.

Midkiff said prep work has already begun on the preferred site at Wilson Loop and Arthur Frusha Road.

“The Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund has an affordable way for the residents of this water system to improve their local drinking water infrastructure," said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry.

"Safe drinking water is fundamental to community health, and this program helps communities throughout Louisiana keep their water as safe as possible without placing an undue burden in the form of expensive financing.”

McKenzie said the low-interest subsidized loan is available at 2.45 percent interest with a maximum 20-year repayment period.

He said Congress established State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund Programs in 1996 as part of the amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The program is jointly funded by an annual grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (80 percent) and the individual participating states (20 percent). In Louisiana, it is administered by LDH's Office of Public Health.

Both public and privately-owned community and nonprofit, non-community water systems are eligible to apply for loans.

“Once a loan is approved, water systems can use the funds to make their improvements. As the systems pay back the loans, the principal and interest are used to make more money available for other communities that have drinking water needs,” McKenzie said.

For more information about the DWRLF program, contact McKenzie at LDH's Office of Public Health at 225-342-7499, or visit the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund page on Facebook.