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South Pekin eyes funding methods for $11M overhaul of water system to minimize added cost to residents

Sunlight shines on the South Pekin water tower hovering above a rooftop in the village.
Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
Sunlight shines on the South Pekin water tower hovering above a rooftop in the village.

The village of South Pekin is hoping to obtain full outside funding for a state-mandated overhaul of its water system.

The need stems from Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) violations for manganese levels that exceed the allowable limit.

South Pekin Mayor Eric Stout says IEPA testing performed near the village pump house found manganese levels slightly above the maximum contaminant level of 0.15 milligrams per liter.

“The water itself hasn't changed; the Illinois EPA changed their guidelines on manganese, which still isn't federally regulated,” Stout said. “But Illinois has decided that they're going to do so, so we need to mitigate that.”

Manganese is a naturally occurring element found in soil, water and air, and people need a small amount to stay healthy.

But too much manganese can increase the risk of some health problems, particularly in young children. The IEPA cautions parents not to use tap water when preparing formula for infants under 6 months.

Stout says he acknowledges the manganese issue needs to be corrected, but he says the village's water supply does not pose a threat to the community.

“As it gets away from the well, even within 100 feet of the well where we have the village hall, we're underneath the limits that they've imposed. So the water is fine,” Stout said.

“I drink the water. Everybody in town has drank the water for 50 years and it's never changed, basically. I don't believe that the water is any worse or better than it was then.”

Village board member Remington Hawkins notes the manganese problem isn't the only concern with the village's water system.

“The only other issue with the water system outside of that is the same issue that's been plaguing communities around the country, is lead lines,” Hawkins said. “Fortunately in South Pekin, we don't have any lead lines that I know of, (but) we still have some mains that have lead fittings.”

U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Moline, has submitted a congressionally directed funding request for nearly $5 million toward the South Pekin water infrastructure improvement project. Stout says the potential funding presents an opportunity to upgrade the entire system.

“Since we didn't know when or if money was going to be available, we just decided we're going to attempt to do everything,” Stout said. “We're going to expand the pump house, we're going to replace the mains, do the lead fittings on pipes between the curbside and the houses.

“Illinois has made that the responsibility of the villages and townships and such in recent years. So we just figured if we can do everything at once and get the funding for that, then we need to get it done now because more stuff is going to be coming down the pipeline anyway. So let’s get in front of it while we can.”

However, Stout notes the appropriation won't be enough to pay for the full extent of the project.

“All totaled, that project is looking at about a little over $11 million, I think. So what Sorensen is proposing for us doesn't cover it all,” he said. “But the IEPA is also looking at providing funding as well, partially in a grant and partially as a low interest loan over 30 years, I believe.”

Hawkins acknowledges the price tag may give residents some sticker shock.

“Something that people have to understand is that when we started this project, it was well below $11 million. Any governmental project seems to have a tendency to balloon,” he said. “But currently where we are at in this stage, we're looking around $11 million to replace every water line in town. So, every main, every supply line to the house and upgrade our current water facility and put in a new class B facility, which has a greensand filter and upgraded filtration which would resolve the manganese issue in the water.”

A screen capture shows a portion of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's notification form that it requires municipalities to send to residents after a water system sample tests show elevated levels of manganese. The IEPA has a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for manganese of 0.15 milligrams per liter.
A screen capture shows a portion of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's notification form that it requires municipalities to send to residents after a water system sample tests show elevated levels of manganese. The IEPA has a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for manganese of 0.15 milligrams per liter.

Hawkins says the undertaking is necessary to preserve the well-being of South Pekin residents.

“The water has not changed; however, there is an elevated manganese level, and people that have health risks, they have to do what is best for their health,” Hawkins said. “With the new water filtration system and all the new lines, there are plenty of benefits. Obviously, the manganese levels are going to be within state requirements.

“However, there are going to be some changes. I mean, we're replacing the whole water system; we're going to a greensand filter and reverse osmosis. There's going to be some taste changes. But in the grand scheme of things, taste is least important when we're talking about compounds that are in the water that could cause health problems.”

Stout says if they don't get enough funding from the IEPA, they may need to consider raising water and garbage rates or place a tax levy referendum on the fall ballot.

“I'm not going to say a tax levy is out of the question, but more than likely it would happen in the same way that we did sewers back in 1980, I think it was. We would just raise the rates on the water and garbage bill for X-amount of years, at which point they would be removed,” Stout said.

“That actually expired two or three years ago, and we removed the old sewer charge. So that's what we were looking at originally. If we can only get partially funded and have a low-interest loan, we would probably raise the rates on water and garbage. Last time, it was somewhere around $20 a month.”

But Hawkins says he thinks it may not come to that point.

“We are in a situation where – I've never seen it before, and it's a blessing – the funding amount that we think we might get is actually increasing,” Hawkins said. “You have the IEPA grant, which hasn't been set in stone but we have had meetings, and that funding amount has continually increased, and then just recently, with the appropriations committee and the talks of $4.5- to $5 million from that side.

“So I'm very hopeful that we can complete this project from start to finish – including any repairs after the project, road work, stuff like that that the project could have an impact on – with little or no cost to the citizens.”

Stout said Sorensen seemed optimistic that his earmark request for South Pekin would be approved.

“When I talked to him on the phone a few weeks ago, he seemed pretty hyped about it. He presented it to me as it was a pretty good likelihood,” Stout said. “I honestly just don't know. The IEPA funding, that's more of a sure thing. I think they're looking at somewhere around 80% in a grant and the rest in the low-interest loan.

“If we get more money than what we were anticipating, it'll end up going for to repair the roads, because we're going to have to dig up the roads to actually replace the mains. A lot of them go straight down the middle of the street.”

Stout said some of the mains in town are more than a century old and the time has come to replace them. He said ideally they would get all the funding in place and be able to break ground this year, but it’s more likely the project would get started next year.

“Conservative estimate, it would be probably take about two years for the entire project,” he said. “It might stretch a little bit longer than that.”

WCBU reached out to the IEPA for comment. We did not receive a response before our publication deadline.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.