The City of Cheboygan’s water systems are getting some much-needed upgrades.
It’s one of three northern Michigan communities included in the latest round of loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Officials in Cheboygan said the loans will cover the costs of a new water tower, storage facilities and improvements to wells – all of which were identified as deficiencies in an assessment by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).
Communities in Benzie County were also included in the loans. The Village of Elberta will use a $1.4 million loan and a nearly $2 million grant to make improvements to their water system. The Village of Honor will use a $158,000 loan to complete wastewater treatment system improvements.
In Cheboygan, along with much of Northern Michigan, aging infrastructure has been a long-standing issue. Parts of the city’s main water line are more than 100 years old.
And with increased tourism, the old system struggles to keep up.
“This is great news not just for the people in the affected communities, but everyone who values our precious water resources,” said USDA State Director for Michigan Brandon Fewins. “USDA Rural Development has the tools to help communities revitalize existing infrastructure or increase its capacity and we are always looking to build new partnerships.”
Cheboygan Director of Public Works Jason Karmol said the loans will address three issues; water storage, equipment storage and well water improvements.
To improve water storage, the city intends to store more water in a second tower located across the Cheboygan River.
“We have about half-a-million gallons in the water tower we have now, but we typically serve more in a given day,” Karmol said. “In the summer (during tourist season) we can serve about 900,000 gallons.”
A second water tower will improve water pressure throughout town, help with firefighting efforts and assure the east side of the Cheboygan River has water pressure if the river crossing lines should fail.
The city will also construct a small storage facility next to the existing wells to keep clean water equipment separate from wastewater equipment.
Even though we store them on opposite sides of the facility, we need more room anyway,” Karmol said. “We’re going to take our water meters and other clean water gear and put it in its own storage facility and keep it away from our wastewater parts.”
The wells themselves will be getting upgrades to better distribute and contain chemicals like phosphate and chlorine.
Karmol says bidding for the projects will roll out in three phases starting with the new water tower. Construction could begin by next year.
The loans will be paid back over 40 years at 1.25 percent interest – record lows according to Fewins.
At its July 1 meeting, the Cheboygan City Council voted to increase utility rates and fees for city water and sewer customers from $7.05 to $9.57 per 1,000 gallons used to account for the future developments.
The USDA also recently invested $73.9 million in communities in central and southern Michigan.
Fewins said infrastructure improvements will be especially important in rural communities.
“Over the next several years, we’re going to see record investments in expanding access to broadband, clean drinking water, sewer projects, alternative energy, upgrading our power grid, and resiliency to protect against the changing climate,” Fewins said. “USDA is going to be at the forefront of these efforts.”