SYCAMORE – After Sycamore city residents expressed concern about foul-smelling city water and discrepancies of lead levels in water tests, city officials are looking at a $6.90 water bill base fee that would go toward city funds for water system improvements.
The majority of aldermen gave their go ahead for the city to consider that base fee during their virtual Monday City Council meeting. City staff confirmed the proposal would come back for a council vote Nov. 2.
Ward 1 Alderman Josh Huseman said during the Monday meeting this was the first time he has heard constituents advocating for adding a fee. He said he also would be in favor of the fee as well, but said he wants to have additional talks to specifically address recent residents’ concerns to determine which water improvement projects should be prioritized.
“I’d support this knowing that we’d have another conversation around the prioritization of these residents that have spoken up,” Huseman said.
The rest of the council agreed they would like to see the higher fees imposed on residents’ water bills to more quickly address water system concerns and fund projects while taking on less debt.
Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said the city takes any resident safety, including water safety, seriously. He said the city started investing $700,000 per year more than a decade ago in a system that removes radium per Environmental Protection Agency requirements and the city also has been setting about $250,000 aside annually for wells and water tower maintenance, or larger infrastructure pieces that produce the city’s water and bring it into system.
Gregory said the city created a water master plan in 2019. He said next steps included identifying a revenue source – water bill fees – the city could use to finance the water master plan, but plans to implement a capital infrastructure fee program were deferred as residents and businesses wrestled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gregory said some models are being put together to take a better look at water circulation in the city. He said he acknowledges that nobody wants to invest money and still have those water quality concerns remain.
“If we’re able to make a wise investment and help people out, I think that’s what we’d all like to do,” Gregory said.
Residents say they have been coming to city officials for years with city water-related concerns, including exceeding lead levels. When previously asked to comment on the discrepancy in the water test results earlier this month, city officials said in a joint statement the water is safe to drink per EPA standards. However, residents said on Monday their concerns remain.
Diane Smudde, of the 100 block of Home Street, said she chose to live in Sycamore because she loves the community, but has water problems in her home. She said she has to clean her sinks and bathtubs constantly and the smell of her water is horrific.
“I would be willing to pay the $5 per month to get this water [issue] resolved,” she said.
City officials also said Monday the city website now has a new tab that provides more information to residents about city water testing and reporting.
Jake Keck, assistant public works director for the city, said public works officials have spent a lot of time analyzing the city’s water distribution and valve system, including any potential leaks and overall water quality.
To date, he said, the city has inspected about 400 of the city’s 1,500 main line valves and found that 10 of those inspected valves – most of which were in the southwest portion of the city – were found to be shut off.
“As you are aware that, when we talk about water flow and age, and when a valve is off, it basically creates a dead end water main,” Keck said. “So in finding these and opening these up, I think that, from what we have seen, we have seen the water quality improve. We have also seen our water quality improve with our hydro-flushing program, along with our autoflushers, in areas of concern.”
Keck said the city will keep working on a more continuous basis to monitor the valves to make sure they’re open and to make sure that water is flowing properly. He said he appreciated the residents letting city officials into their homes to test water samples and gives the city more data to work with, and he urges residents to continue to reach out to the department with any questions or concerns they may have.
“We are here to help and we take a lot of pride in what we do here,” Keck said. “We want nothing more than to have clean, potable water for the community.”