Understanding the Water Quality report

Rockford plans water system rehabilitation program to improve city’s water quality

Rockford Urban Ministries Executive Director Stanley Campbell has frequently said Rockford’s water “tastes like crap.” Following is a summary of the 2006 Water Quality Report released by Rockford Water Division, provided as a mailer to residents.

The Rockford Water Division is required to provide this report to all its customers according to regulations of the Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection agencies. EPA prescribes much of the information it contains. The focus of the report is Rockford’s compliance with drinking water standards.

The Illinois EPA considers the source water of Rockford’s water supply to be susceptible to contamination, based on several criteria, including monitoring conducted at wells; monitoring conducted at the entry point to the distribution system; available hydrogeologic data of the wells; and land-use activities in the recharge area of the wells. A Source Water Assessment summary is available upon request.

Naturally pure water does not exist. All water contains some impurities. The ground water used as the source of Rockford’s drinking water flows through layers of soil and rock, in the process dissolving tiny amounts of the substances it touches. Most of these are harmless, but at certain levels, some substances are considered contaminants. These contaminants can make water less desirable, or even unsafe.

In Rockford, ground water is pumped from 39 wells throughout the city. Eight of the wells, typically 200-250 feet deep, pump from the sand and gravel aquifer underlying the Rock River Valley. The remaining 31 wells draw water from a porous sandstone aquifer. These wells are up to 1,500 feet deep.

The quality of ground water in the Rockford area is generally good. The city treats the water to make sure it is safe to drink and enhance its quality. The types of treatment applied are chlorination, fluoridation, sequestering and filtration.

Water system rehabilitation program

Last December, the City Council approved a critical plan to overhaul the city’s water system. The rehabilitation program addresses water quality, pressure and an aging infrastruture. The program is intended to modernize the water utility.

Water rehabilitation is needed for the following reasons:

Customer dissatisfaction with dirty water—19 wells exceed the standard for iron. Elevated levels of iron result in red or orange water. Seven wells exceed the standard for manganese. Elevated levels of manganese may result in black or gray water at the tap. Rockford must comply with the radium standard by 2009. Five wells exceed the standard for radium. Public notice regarding these sites is sent quarterly to customers. The allowable standard is 5.0 picocuries per liter. The five wells that exceed this standard are: No. 16—4550 Harrison Ave.; No. 27—5834 Guilford Rd.; No. 29—4750 Pepper Drive; No. 30—6544 Palo Verde Drive; No. 36—4141 Samuelson Rd.

Customers in the Rockford area receive inconsistent and/or low service pressure. The physical infrastructure is aging. Some wells are still in use that were drilled in the early 1900s. This aging infrastructure makes it necessary to reconstruct a major pumping station, demolish three dilapidated concrete storage tanks and abandon five wells.

For the first time in its history, the city will filter most of the water delivered to city water users. Eighteen well sites will serve as the primary source of water for the city supply. Equipment at these sites will be modernized and treatment plants constructed as needed. Thirteen sites will be placed on a standby status. Standby wells will be available for use during periods of high consumption or as backup to the primary sites. Improvements will be made to ensure reliability.

What does this program involve?

For water quality, 10 treatment plants will remove iron and manganese. Three plants will also remove radium. Two new wells will be constructed—one to replace an aging facility in the city center, the other to add supply to growth in the northwest. The system will also install automated control at zone boundaries.

Variable speed pump and controls at primary sites will reduce fluctuations in water pressure. There will be 15 miles of trunk water main. An additional high pressure zone will increase pressure in the northeast section of the city.

How much will it cost?

The rehabilitation project will be completed over a three-year period, financed with bonds paid back over 20 years. Total estimated costs are $75 million A water rate increase totaling 35 percent will be phased in over three years (compounded to 39 percent).

Rockford Water Superintendent Tim Holdeman said: “The project is under way. We’re happy with the progress so far. It’s going to be next year before we do any construction…. We made a bond issue of $15 million in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, it will be $30 million—for a total of $75 million.”

But some Rockford residents have raised questions about other elements in the water not addressed in this report. Dean Ekberg was one of the protesters at the Pagel Pit Superfund expansion hearings held in fall 2005. He raised a question that the total TTHMs (trihalomethanes) don’t include the numbers for concentration of chloroform (trichloromethane). This toxic chemical has been found in the water supply in southeast Rockford, but the EPA does not routinely test for it, nor do most municipalities. In addition to trichloromethane, Ekberg has also found small amounts of solvents such as TCE and PCE over the MCLs (Maximum Contaminant Levels) for those compounds. This will be addressed in a future article, as well as discussion of groundwater around the Superfund areas in Rockford.

From the July 19-25, 2006, issue

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