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updated: 10/4/2011 3:34 PM

Clock ticking on McIlvaine's water fight with St. Charles

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  • Cliff McIlvaine of St. Charles is fighting the city over the right to drink and bathe in the rainwater that falls on his property. The city says it's a health hazard.

       Cliff McIlvaine of St. Charles is fighting the city over the right to drink and bathe in the rainwater that falls on his property. The city says it's a health hazard.
    James Fuller | Staff Photographer

 
 

On paper, Cliff McIlvaine has broken the public pledge he recently made to go to jail before he'll ever drink the chemically treated water that flows into most St. Charles homes. His signature on a new legal document shows he's legally bound himself to not drinking or bathing in the rainwater his cistern system collects.

"Under extreme pressure I signed that agreement," McIlvaine said. "but we're going back to court to overturn it."

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McIlvaine has recently become a neighborhood curiosity for fighting against city codes that say his 36-year-old home improvement project is a hazard. But having come to terms with the city on when he'll finally complete his home addition, his new fight is over his right to drink the rainwater that falls on his property. City officials said McIlvaine's claims that he'll ignore the court agreement he signed to not drink the rainwater make him both a "scofflaw" and a health hazard.

"The city is not going away on this," City Attorney Phil Luetkehans said. "We will seek contempt of court and the 30-plus years of fines plus legal fees he faces by not fulfilling the agreement."

City officials believe McIlvaine's cistern system is contaminated because the water runs down a roof that animals may defecate on and then down a gutter system with joints that contain lead.

McIlvaine disputes the idea his water is unhealthy. He's been drinking it for nearly 70 years. Plus, the court agreement doesn't force him to switch his water system for another six months, indicating to him that his water can't be too deadly. McIlvaine said he's had the water tested by the DuPage County Health Department. He said those tests show his double-filtered rainwater is better for him to drink than the city's water.

"It just blows my mind how the city can stop me and refuse me from drinking rainwater and force me to only use their chemical-ridden water," McIlvaine said. "I'm never going to change my system. And once I put a sterilizer on it the water will be virtually guaranteed to have no bacteria."

And there's the hitch. One of the four samples McIlvaine sent for testing showed it wasn't drinkable.

"One of the samples showed coliform, which can lead to E. coli, which can cause death," Luetkehans said. "His water did not meet the standards required by safety and health regulations."

McIlvaine admits one of the samples failed "just by a little bit." He chalks that failure up to the sample being mishandled and not properly sealed.

"I take showers with this water," McIlvaine said. "I brush my teeth with this water. They just don't want to believe my tests because it's become a vendetta for the city. This cistern system was installed and used in this house since before I was even born. I'm not going to use their water."

The court order McIlvaine signed calls for the plumbing changes to begin March 19, 2012. The city is scheduled to inspect the system May 28, 2012.

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