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A costly mandate for well owners in Rock Falls

Sterling, Dixon have different approaches

The Rock Falls Water Department begins to compact soil over a water pipe along Arland Street in Rock Falls. Rock Falls Water Department is extending service into a neighborhood in which residents have wells.
The Rock Falls Water Department begins to compact soil over a water pipe along Arland Street in Rock Falls. Rock Falls Water Department is extending service into a neighborhood in which residents have wells.

ROCK FALLS – Lynn Everly says she can't afford to meet the city's mandate that all well users connect to its water system.

Jim Buzard, on the other hand, says he can, but disagrees with the rule.

When the city imposed the mandate in 2011, 248 houses within city limits used private wells for drinking water. All must connect by April 5, 2014.

Thus far, about 60 have done so, said Ted Padilla, the city's water superintendent.

The cleanup of the downtown Reliant Fastener and Parrish-Alford sites sparked the requirement. As part of the project, the state Environmental Protection Agency required discontinuing all private wells within 1,500 feet of the properties.

The city extended that order to the rest of the town.

Since 1977, a city ordinance has required well users connect to the city system, Padilla said.

The city is charging residents $500 to get service boxes and access to the city system, but it can cost thousands of more dollars for residents to extend the piping of their household systems to the boxes, Padilla said. Some places already have service boxes; in such cases, the city hookup fee is $100.

Padilla said it's common for cities to require residents to join municipal water systems.

"There is always a concern of contamination," he said. "A lot of these wells are installed in basements. The majority of them aren't installed properly. If there is a backup of sewage in the basement, there is always a potential of sewage getting someone sick. There is always that slim possibility."

Buzard, who lives on Arland Street in Rock Falls, said he can afford the change, which he expects will cost about $2,000. But he disputes the reasons for the city's requirement.

"This house and well have been here since 1946, and it's never been bad in 66 years and never been dry in 66 years," he said. "The water is just as clear, and it tests out fine. The city has had boil orders; we never have had one."

Everly, who lives near 13th Street and Fifth Avenue, said she can't afford to connect to city water. The city has told residents that financial assistance is available for those needing help with the conversion.

Everly said she is eligible for loans, not grants. The problem is, she said, she can't afford to make loan payments.

"I've never had a problem with the well water," Everly said. "If the city wants us to switch, the city should be handling the cost. I don't see how the city can tell us that we have to do this."

Residents who don't hook up to city water before the deadline face a penalty. According to a city ordinance, the fine can range from $50 to $750.

Padilla said the city hasn't decided how it would handle cases in which residents don't meet the requirement. Officials, he said, probably will make such decisions closer to the deadline.

In Dixon, only 26 houses have private wells, according to the city. A city ordinance requires that new houses within 200 feet of potable water sources connect to the city water system, Water Superintendent Rusty Cox said. The same goes for houses with wells beyond repair.

Sterling has no good estimate for residents with their own wells, City Manager Scott Shumard said. Those who build new structures in Sterling must get potable water from the local system, owned by Illinois American Water, a private company. Those with existing wells are allowed to keep them until they fail.

In Sterling, an old service station (now a gift shop) at the northwest corner of West Fourth Street and Avenue G was in a cleanup process because of a leaking underground storage tank, Shumard said. The state EPA required the city pass an ordinance barring wells in a specified area around the station, but no wells were nearby anyway, he said.

Shumard said he expected the state EPA would require a similar ordinance for the Plant 1 area of the Northwestern Steel and Wire cleanup project.

"I would anticipate the city of Sterling would try to make it a localized ordinance rather than encompassing the whole city," he said in an email.

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