News - DeKalb County

Sycamore residents say ‘foul odor’ of water in city’s older neighborhoods keeps them from using it

Jennifer Campbell said the sewage-smelling water in her home in the 400 block of Edwards Street where she's lived for 16 years is so bad during the warm months that she and other neighbors can't use it.

SYCAMORE – Jennifer Campbell said the sewage-smelling water in her home in the 400 block of Edwards Street where she’s lived for 16 years is so bad during the warm months that she and other neighbors can’t use it.

“The summer following the replacement of the Park Avenue water main three to four years ago, we noticed the cold water began to have a horrific smell,” Campbell said, addressing the city council during Monday’s virtual Zoom meeting. “The odor we are describing is the same odor residents have been experiencing for the last four years. Not the smell of rotten eggs or sulfur. This smells seems to have a stronger chemical type of odor, described as an asphalt mixed with sewage odor.”

Campbell said she's heard comments from neighbors around town and on social media, who lives in older neighborhoods such as on Edwards, Walnut or Fair streets, Park Avenue, Charles, South Cross streets, DeKalb Avenue, West Sycamore, Lucas, West Lincoln, North California, West and East State streets, Stark Avenue, sections of Somonauk and Greeley streets, South Avenue, Ottawa, Townsend, Grant, South Locust and Mclaren streets.

"When one looks at these streets that are affected by this, it appears to be the older, original Sycamore residences seem to be more affected by this problem," she said. "As of yet we have not had any residents in the later surrounding residence complain about this issue."

She and others Monday expressed concern about the safety of the water, staying the smell is so bad they don't feel right using it. Campbell said her research has showed her the last time her water main was replaced was 1905.

"This water smell is so repulsive, there are residents of Sycamore that are wearing masks to wash their dishes, there are others that have gone to the extent of throwing away loads of laundered clothing due to the inability to remove this odor," she said. "Even the simple act of brushing our teeth at times requires the use of bottled water. While showering, multiple residents have expressed that the foul odor permeates through the entire home after they are done showering."

She and three other residents spoke Monday, saying the city's Public Works Department crews have come to their homes to assess what can be done, and nothing has alleviated the problem, leading to many residents spending thousands of dollars in their own money to try and redo plumbing, buy new water heaters or softeners, to no avail.

City officials addressed her concerns during the meeting.

City Manager Brian Gregory said the city had budgeted funds to overhaul some major maintenance on the city's water system, but those plans had to be placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Last year the council was presented a water master plan," Gregory said. "This was something we had consultants prepare for the city, looking at all of our wells, water towers, water mains to help determine where to make investment in the infrastructure. That was to be implemented this year but was deferred at this point given the COVID-19 uncertainty, so that's something in the fall we're going to review."

Gregory called the issue "paramount" and said city crews plan to address it as soon as possible.

"Between now and next meeting, we will get over to Edwards Street, myself included, if someone's comfortable allowing us to come into your house, mask included, so we can smell what you're smelling," Gregory said.

Fred Busse, the city's public works director said the city hopes to map out the locations where complaints are coming from and target whether a specific water well or main needs repairing.

Debra Rossiter, of the 800 block of Mclaren Drive, said the water also feels strange, too.

"There are moments where my water coming out of my kitchen faucet and bathroom smells like raw sewage," she said. "The color is golden. And then it clears up and smells heavily of chlorine or bleach. I've also noticed at points the water is sticky. It's just gummy on your skin, so I don't know what's going on but it's not good. I would not drink it, I don't feel good about washing my clothes let alone showering in it."

Lori Strain, who lives at the corner of Elm and Walnut, echoed her neighbors.

"I had my entire house re-plumbed with copper, and $5,000 later it hasn't changed," Strain said. "I can't maintain my house. My house is very old, 1910. I was told the only way I could fix that is probably spend another 10 grand to cut across the street to the other water main."

Alyssa Force, who also lives on Edwards Street, said she and her family are concerned to use the water for fear of what could be in it because of the bad smell.

"We're just trying to figure out the root cause in it so we can have confidence that our water is indeed safe to drink when it's coming into our home," Force said.

Ward 1 Alderman Josh Huseman and Ward 4 Alderman Virginia Sherrod called for the city to take up the water issue at their next council meeting, to expedite any solutions available.

“We know that there has to be a problem, Sherrod said. “Not to put anyone on the spot, but hopefully we can come to a resolution and find what the problem is and everyone can be satisfied.”

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.