'Unacceptable': Lake County water crisis hits fifth day
Despite earlier corporate assurances that the problem was being resolved, hundreds of Lake County residents awoke Thursday without reliably safe drinking water for the fifth consecutive day.
The emergency reportedly has affected roughly 1,200 Aqua Illinois customers in Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer and nearby unincorporated areas since Sunday morning. Many had no tap water at all until Wednesday - and some say they temporarily lost service again after getting it back.
Those with running water should boil it before use. That directive is expected to remain in effect through the weekend, Aqua announced Thursday.
People are angry, complaining about the duration of the crisis and the quality of Aqua's communications.
"We received messages saying we should conserve our water usage when we didn't have any water," Hawthorn Woods resident Susan Bauer said. "They have failed to keep (their) customers updated with timely and accurate information."
Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart agreed.
"The time it has taken for Aqua Illinois to fix this is unacceptable, as is their lack of communication with the residents," Hart said Thursday morning. "My heart goes out to the residents that are affected by this water issue."
Jim Bilotta, Aqua Illinois' director of business development, apologized for the inconveniences.
"But some of this stuff is beyond our control," he added.
Why Aqua Illinois?
Neighborhoods affected by the emergency include the Wentworth, Westbury and Sanctuary Club in Kildeer and the Hawthorn Woods Country Club in Hawthorn Woods.
While many Lake County homeowners get water from Lake Michigan-based systems or private wells, these and others receive water from Aqua Illinois through deals struck with real estate developers, not elected officials.
The affected Aqua Illinois system is based near Midlothian and Old McHenry roads in Hawthorn Woods. It includes two groundwater wells, an ion exchange system to treat the water supply, a 370,000-gallon water storage reservoir and miles of water mains, according to the Lake County public works department's website.
To make up lost volume this week, water from elsewhere in Aqua's regional service area has been used to fill the local reservoir and help maintain system pressure.
Aqua Illinois intends to build a second pump and well station at the Hawthorn Woods plant to improve service, Bilotta said. Those plans were in the works before the current crisis, he said.
On Wednesday, Aqua Illinois blamed the outage on three broken water lines and three leaky fire hydrants. The problem was magnified because the system's water reserves were low because of the ongoing drought, Aqua said.
The company reportedly fixed those leaks, but problems persisted Thursday - leading to the discovery of another suspected broken water main in Hawthorn Woods, which resulted in shut-offs for about 100 customers, Aqua Illinois spokeswoman Brittany Tressler said.
Bauer's home had running water as of Thursday morning - but she remained furious.
"Aqua's service has been awful in the past and their water is terrible, while (we are) paying a fortune for it," she said.
Long Grove Fire Protection District Chief Paul Segalla, who lives in Hawthorn Woods and lost water service for several days, said Aqua hasn't reached out to area fire departments to discuss the possible impact of the emergency on firefighting.
"Aqua has never once (shared) any information about the lack of pressure and volume needed for firefighting," Segalla said.
In the statement on its website, Aqua Illinois said the company has "the tools and water supply to help with fire protection efforts" but didn't elaborate.
Other people are venting on social media, including in a Facebook group called "Hawthorn Woods/Kildeer Water" that has more than 250 members.
Hawthorn Woods resident Erin Wierzbicki said she's suffered through the outage with three kids under 5, including a newborn.
"I've turned off autopay on my bill and won't be paying until this is resolved and a credit is applied to our bill," she wrote.
Kildeer resident Claire Tang posted a photo of a gallon-sized jug being filled with yellowish water from her kitchen tap.
Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods and Democratic state Rep. Nabeela Syed of Palatine have met with irate Aqua Illinois customers and on Thursday continued to pressure the company to restore water service to all the affected customers.
"Access to good, clean drinking water is a fundamental human right," said McConchie, who also promised "a full investigation" into the system failure.
Systemwide, the company has "seen some really great progress," Bilotta said.
"We're almost there," he added.
But resuming water service at all the homes doesn't end the crisis. Because low water pressure can allow contaminants into a supply, people still are being urged to boil water or use bottled water.
Bottled water is being provided free to customers at the Hawthorn Woods Aquatic Center, 94 Midlothian Road. Aqua Illinois, the Lake County Emergency Management Agency, the Salvation Army and Hawthorn Woods are transporting and delivering those bottles.
The aquatic center actually is part of the problem. It's on Aqua's system, and a water line break there kept the park closed again Thursday.
Crews won't try to find or fix that break until water is fully restored to the nearby communities, Bilotta said.
In addition to boiling tap water, Aqua has been urging affected customers to conserve water. That request became an order Thursday in Hawthorn Woods, where customers have been told to stop using lawn sprinklers until notified.
Tressler said Aqua Illinois is "committed" to ensuring this doesn't happen again. Steps will include developing a water-supply plan based on growth projections for the area, updating the company's water main replacement program and working with elected officials to develop what Tressler called "a robust conservation program."
Service updates from Aqua are available online at aquawater.com/iljuly2023.php.
Tressler encouraged customers to sign up for text and phone alerts at aquawater.com/watersmart-alerts.php.