Lynn White works in the office of the East Peoria Water Department. Through repetition she has become adept at writing boil advisories and emailing them to the area’s media outlets.
“She would tell you she could write a boil advisory in her sleep,” said Ray Roese, water supervisor for the Water Department, and White’s boss.
She writes a significant number of the advisories every year, alerting residents in neighborhoods where pipe breaks and leaks have potentially compromised the quality and safety of their drinking water. Usually, it’s a matter of precaution to advise customers to boil water before consuming it.
“We do issue many boil advisories. Our underground water and wastewater piping is aging and breaks occur more often,” said Steve Ferguson, director of the city’s Public Works Department that oversees the water treatment and distribution services. “We are very careful to ensure that our water is safe following any water outage that has caused us to open up the pipe. We are very cautious, but never want to be accused of not taking the proper precautions.”
This year the city has issued nine boil advisories — an average number for the system — although three were for scheduled maintenance. Last year there were only five advisories; 17 in 2014; and 15 in 2013. The Water Department serves about 8,100 customers in the city of about 23,500 people.
“Every system leaks. Every system breaks,” Roese said. “There is not a system out there that doesn’t leak or break.”
Roese said part of the problem with the system is based on East Peoria’s hilly topography. Pumping water up a hillside at 125 pounds of pressure per square inch can tax a piping system, Roese said. And anytime water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch, the EPA requires that the area be isolated and shut down and checked and that affected customers be advised to boil their water.
“It’s a precaution. It’s better to err on the safe side,” Roese said.
The Water Department operates 11 groundwater wells in the system that tap into the Sankoty aquifer. Four water treatment plants remove iron and manganese and add phosphate to control the corrosion, fluoride to promote dental health and chlorine to disinfect the water.
Roese estimated that only about 10 percent of the oldest pipes in the system date back to the turn of the 20th century. Since the 1970s most of the cast iron piping have been replaced by Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) piping. Diameters of the pipes have increased.
“We’ve been replacing them ever since I’ve been in this job about eight years in the problematic areas,” Roese said. “ We’ve placed an all brand new water main down Camp Street, North Main Street down Illinois Route 116 to Camp Crossing. We have a new water main in the Center Street area down to the viaduct. We’ve replaced the water main on Fairfield Avenue.”
Roese identified the Reinders Road area, off Meadows Avenue near the border with Morton, as the last remaining trouble spot in the city. It gets the Water Department’s attention this summer.
“We have been very proactive with those trouble spots and, currently are down to just Reinders Road as the one we have been visiting the most. Hopefully after the upgrade, we can check that off the list.”
With the crisis in the Flint, Mich. water distribution system, municipal water services in general and lead contamination specifically have been much in the news lately. Roese, and Commissioner Tim Jeffers, who oversees Public Works and Water departments, have fielded questions from concerned residents about the possibility of what happened in Flint happening in East Peoria.
“The city of East Peoria has a proven, documented path of lead monitoring that is second to none, spanning decades,” Jeffers said. “While residents may wonder when they see headlines elsewhere, they should be assured we are 100 percent proactive on this issue and all public safety items relating to drinking water. We are sending an informational flyer in the upcoming billing cycles addressing the lead issue and things residents can do to head off potential problems.”
Roese said East Peoria treats its water with an anti-corrosion property so that the older pipes in the system made of cast iron don’t leach lead into the water.
“It promotes a coating on the consumers’ plumbing and it creates a barrier to the leaching of lead and copper in the plumbing,” Roese said. “We’ve been doing that since 2006. That’s about the time when the first (EPA) rules of copper and lead came out to make your water less aggressive. You control the pH and do something to line the pipe in people’s homes.”
Jeffers has a lengthy, and expensive, wish list for the Water Department.
“If I had unlimited resources, well, I would acquire more property access for future wells as they all have limited life, even if it is 30-40 years. Additional valving added to isolate main breaks is always very helpful in isolating selected areas without taking out large numbers of customers. Upgrading the old, undersized mains is ongoing and very desirable,” Jeffers said. “One final item for now is the eventual construction of a new water tower, likely in the new downtown area (Levee District). This would provide for better service and supply, while an observation deck accompanying it would be icing on the cake.”
The old system doesn’t yet meet Jeffers’ ideal. Administrative assistant White last sent out a boil advisory, her ninth of 2016, on April 29 for addresses between 2811 and 3024 on Springfield Road to three television stations, two radio stations and three area newspapers. She sent out cancellations to the same outlets on May 1.
There are currently no boil advisories active in East Peoria.