News - DeKalb County

‘I want Sycamore to step up’: Amid water woes, city says $11.2M overhaul stalled due to pandemic

Sycamore residents came again before city officials Tuesday to express strong frustrations at the city's water system, including foul odors amid concerns about water quality.

SYCAMORE – Sycamore residents came before city officials Tuesday to again express strong frustrations at the city’s water system, including foul odors amid concerns about water quality.

City officials in turn said they have a plan to address widespread outrage, but continued to emphasize the city's waterways remain in compliance with state regulations.

Jennifer Campbell, of the 400 block of Edwards Street, who led the call for change at the Aug. 17 council meeting, said since that time she’s heard from 108 residents across the city’s older neighborhoods who share her concerns about the “horrific smell” like rotten eggs or sulfur, or in some areas highly-chlorinated water coming from their pipes which keeps them from using it.

"The number of residents who have contacted us has led us to the conclusion that these issues are not limited to a few areas," Campbell said.

Residents for weeks have been coming forward, though many, including Campbell and Sean Finn, of the 600 block of Edward Street, said they've been speaking up to the city for years with no result. Some residents say they've spent thousands of dollars in their own money to try and redo plumbing, buy new water heaters or softeners to no avail.

Finn said he's an analytical chemist and had his own water tested of his own accord. During the Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday, Finn held up results of a test he had done, which showed the lead value in the water was 200 parts per billion.

"The legal limit is 15 parts per billion," Finn said. "That number is absolutely shocking and concerning on so many levels. I want Sycamore to step up and start collecting water at the taps to determine if there's indeed lead in everyone's water."

City Manager Brian Gregory thanked those who came forward with concerns Tuesday, and said the city's water quality is compliant with standards set down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The city's water treatment includes radium removal, a phosphate blend to isolate chlorine, a fluoride treatment and a chlorine treatment for all 115.4 miles of water main. The city reports levels of all those chemicals to the IEPA monthly, officials said.

"We take what you're saying very seriously," Gregory said. "The more information that we have, it helps us to try to narrow down exactly what condition is causing these concerns."

Gregory said the city council in 2019 approved a water master plan, which would have dedicated $11.2 million to overhauling the city’s water system, paid in part by a special fee which would have been placed on residents’ water bills.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the fee was deferred, though discussion on the matter will be taken up again this fall.

"This was in the works well over a year ago," Gregory said. "This was something that we were working towards as trying to identify where to put investment into our system to improve both water quality and flow."

Matt Anderson, the city's assistant public works director, said all the wells in Sycamore are ground water, the oldest on Maertz Drive was drilled in 1970. The newest, he said, on Heron Creek, was drilled in 2014.

Since 2019, public works crews have implemented a variety of initiatives in an attempt to improve water quality. In January and February of 2019, they adjusted the water tower levels. In May of 2019, they increased phosphate dosages into the wells. In July of 2019, they replaced water valves and in December they modified the auto-flusher run times on the wells. In June and July, they changed the directional flow of the water.

Next steps, Anderson said, include continuing to monitor water treatments to reduce iron in the system, hydrant flushing and bringing well no. 7 at Electric Park Drive back online.

Amy Kraus, of the 200 block of East Lincoln Street, said her cups and toilets are stained due to the water quality, and she said a public works' staffer told her she resides on one of the oldest wells in the city.

“We’d like it fixed,” she said. “It’s just disturbing that it takes a whole bunch of people to speak up and ask for something to be fixed.”

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.