'We need answers': State launches informal investigation as final boil-water order is lifted
A 10-day-old boil order affecting hundreds of people in southern Lake County was lifted Tuesday as demands for explanations from the Aqua Illinois utility company grew -- and an investigation began.
The directive's demise meant residents in the Glennshire subdivision in Hawthorn Woods and the nearby Forest Lake neighborhood in unincorporated Lake County "may return to normal use of their water service," a notice posted Tuesday afternoon on the county website read.
Those people were the last of the estimated 1,200 Aqua Illinois customers in Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer and nearby unincorporated areas who were affected by the crisis, which began July 2. Multiple breaks in the Hawthorn Woods-based water system were discovered in the days that followed.
Some people didn't have running water for days; anyone who did was advised to boil it for at least five minutes before use because of contaminants that might have gotten into the system.
Most customers were cleared by Aqua Illinois to resume drinking tap water Sunday, based on water-quality tests conducted by an independent laboratory, the company announced.
But the Lake County public works department, which operates the Aqua system feeding into Forest Lake and Glennshire, told folks there to continue boiling tap water while it performed additional safety tests.
The results came back clean Tuesday.
"Water samples tested by a certified laboratory have confirmed that the water is free of coliform bacteria," the county's statement read.
Although not necessarily harmful, the presence of coliform bacteria indicates a pathway between a source of bacteria and a water supply, health experts say.
Residents and political leaders haven't been shy about criticizing Aqua Illinois' communication efforts during the crisis and how long the company took to fix the broken pipes. More complaints came near the end of Tuesday's county board meeting from member Adam Schlick, a Wauconda Republican.
"I think we need answers, and I think we're going to get them," Schlick said.
Fellow board member Sara Knizhnik, a Vernon Hills Democrat, said she is "extremely disappointed" with how Aqua Illinois has handled the crisis.
"This is not the level of service that Lake County residents deserve," Knizhnik said. "They must do better."
The Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates public utility services across the state, has received more than 150 complaints from Aqua Illinois customers regarding the crisis and has begun an informal investigation into the emergency and the company's response, ICC spokeswoman Cayli Baker said Tuesday.
"Any potential formal actions by the commission would follow staff's preliminary work to assess what happened," Baker said.
Additionally, county and municipal officials plan to review their agreements with Aqua Illinois to determine what steps they should take. State lawmakers have pledged action, too.
Responding to the criticisms, Aqua Illinois spokeswoman Brittany Tressler said the company understands its customers are frustrated.
"We are fully committed to having conversations with community leaders and customers about what happened, and about what we're doing to make sure this doesn't happen again," Tressler said. Those meetings have yet to be scheduled.
Aqua Illinois serves about 280,000 people in 14 counties, its website states. Company officials have urged customers to sign up for text and phone alerts at aquawater.com/watersmart-alerts.php.
• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.