‘A resource that we count on’: Legislation inspired by 2023 water crisis in Lake County clears House

Nearly a year after a system failure left hundreds of homes and businesses in southern Lake County without drinkable water for days, legislation that would require utility companies to notify fire departments and public safety dispatch centers when water supplies are disrupted has passed the state House with bipartisan support.

The proposal, introduced last fall by Democratic state Rep. Nabeela Syed of Palatine, would amend the state’s Environmental Protection Act to require water utilities to alert affected fire departments within two hours of the discovery of an unplanned service outage — even one as small as a leaking fire hydrant. Companies also would be required to inform fire departments of a planned service outage at least 14 days in advance.

Syed represents the communities affected by last summer’s water crisis. The emergency lasted July 2-11 and inconvenienced roughly 1,200 Aqua Illinois customers in Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer and nearby unincorporated areas.

Hundreds of customers had no running water for days. Those with running water were advised to boil it before consuming it.

The Lake County Emergency Management Agency and the Salvation Army, and eventually Aqua Illinois, donated cases of bottled water to affected customers during the crisis.

Not only were people without safe water to drink or use for cooking, but Long Grove Fire Protection District Chief Paul Segalla — a Hawthorn Woods resident affected by the outage — said Aqua Illinois didn't reach out to departments to discuss the possible impact on firefighting.

  Colin Smith loads a case of water into a minivan at the Hawthorn Woods Aquatic Center during a regional water service outage last July. Legislation that would require utility companies to notify fire departments when water supplies are disrupted has passed the state House. John Starks/, 2023

Representatives from Aqua Illinois and its parent company subsequently admitted their team didn't initially recognize the severity of the emergency — which was the result of multiple system breaks and leaks — and didn't effectively communicate with customers and public officials.

Syed was among those who demanded an explanation from Aqua Illinois as well as assurances the crisis wouldn't recur.

“There were grave concerns from community members and firefighters that local fire departments were not directly notified by the water utility company,” Syed said on the X social media platform. “This bill solves that problem.”

  State Rep. Nabeela Syed Brian Hill/

Segalla, who worked with Syed on the proposal, said the legislation would give firefighters important information when going into action during a water outage.

“Water is a resource that we count on to be readily available in the event of a fire or emergency that needs water from a fire hydrant,” Segalla said. “This also will advise us if the water that supplies sprinkler systems in buildings is not available and would require us to change our tactics for fighting a fire.”

The legislation, which was co-sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Daniel Didech of Buffalo Grove, passed the House with a 108-0 vote on April 17. It now awaits debate in the Senate, where it’s sponsored by Democrat Ram Villivalam of Chicago.

Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods also represents the communities affected by last summer’s water crisis, and like Syed he met with constituents and demanded action from Aqua Illinois during last summer’s crisis.

McConchie plans to support the legislation if it’s called for a vote in the Senate, a spokeswoman said.

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