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Water Main Break in Your Neighborhood? Why You Should Be Concerned — and Notified

Wed August 15 2018 12:05 pm
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You might think of a water main break as a traffic inconvenience when a road is closed for repair; or you might be concerned about damage to your driveway, your parkway, or landscaping. Have you thought much about how a water main break might affect your drinking water safety?

Dunton Avenue water main repairRoad closed for water main break on Dunton Avenue in Arlington Heights in February 2018.

Arlington Heights has among the best water main repair crews in the country — working 24/7 in all kinds of weather conditions, including extreme cold. Does the Village of Arlington Heights management and information system to alert citizens about water main incidents match the dedication of street crews?

In many or all water main breaks, customers of drinking water supplies should be notified immediately because a loss of pressure caused by water main breaks can allow contaminants to get sucked into the drinking water system underground. The Illinois EPA requires cities and villages activate alerts for citizens when a potential drinking water contamination incident exists. According to the Illinois EPA, there are two types of orders that can affect drinking water customers: 1) a “Boil Order” and 2) a “Do Not Drink Order” which depend on the type of contaminants that may have entered the drinking water system. Bacteria and volatile contaminants are killed or boiled away in steam. Other contaminants remain in the boiled water, and the difference is determined because of the type of contaminants that may actually remain in the water that is boiled. The EPA describes these remaining contaminants as nitrate, inorganic chemicals and non-volatile contaminants. These contaminants would actually become more concentrated when part of the water intended for drinking is boiled away as steam, leaving an increased concentration of contaminants behind with water in the pot intended for drinking.

Some contaminants could cause immediate gastrointestinal illness, which may or may not have lasting health effects. Other contaminants could cause immediate toxicity-related symptoms or delayed diseases, such as cancer, that can develop many years after consumption.

Think of a water main break that you have probably seen. During a water main break, water rises to the surface and sometimes pushes up driveways, parkway sod, etc. Beneath the ground, the water pressure in the main or in the supply line to your house or business drops. Water and contaminants move from higher pressure to lower pressure areas, allowing contaminants, such as sewer feces, sewer water, pesticides, fertilizers, volatile organic compounds, to enter the drinking water system.

Determining the actual water pressure in the hole of broken water main is very difficult, if not impossible. Many times water main breaks cause a drop in water pressure that activates sensors in commercial fire sprinkler systems, causing several false alarms in multiple businesses.

Water Main Break in Arlington Heights, December 2017Water main break on Belmont Avenue in Arlington Heights in December 2017.

Coliform Contamination

Coliform bacteria are rod-shaped Gram-negative bacteria which are commonly used as an indicator of sanitary quality of foods and water. Coliform bacteria can be found in the aquatic environment, in soil and on vegetation; they are universally present in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals. Coliform are not normally causes of serious illness, but they are easy to culture, and the presence of coliform bacteria is used to indicate that other pathogenic organisms (e.g., disease causing bacteria, viruses, protozoa and multicellular parasites) of fecal origin may be present.

The Illinois EPA requires that boil orders not be lifted until …

1) One Set of bacteriological samples show satisfactory results when pressure drops below 20 psi occur (i.e. water main repairs, or a power outage or pump failure, causes low pressure, localized or system wide outage, etc.); or

2) two sets of bacteriological samples collected approximately 24 hours apart show satisfactory results when turbidity, flooding or coliform contamination is involved. Samples can be analyzed by any approved analytical method.

When Should a Boil Order Be Issued?

Water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch (PSI) in any portion of the distribution system. A loss of pressure in the system can allow contaminants outside the water lines to enter the water system. Pressure loss can result from mechanical failure, power outage, main break, valve replacement, or high demand on an undersized water main.

In the event of pressure loss, a water system may take advantage of a “boil order exception” if there is historical data that indicates that an adequate and reliable chlorine residual was maintained in the system and the affected area, along with a written record of turbidity measurements in the affected area.. A certified laboratory either on-site or otherwise readily available is required to immediately analyze the required coliform samples. A condition of the
“boil order exception” also requires that turbidity readings following any repair must not vary from the historical levels.

— Illinois EPA

A quick investigation that you could check yourself will show you that Arlington Heights seriously lags in information about water quality and water alerts compared to many other cities and villages in the United States, including our neighbors in Mount Prospect.

The reason for the difference may be due to the standard operating procedures of the Village of Arlington Heights Public Works d Department, and the water distribution service that the Village of Arlington Heights uses. Both Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect use Lake Michigan water, but Arlington Heights uses the Northwest Water Commission, and Mount Prospect uses Illinois American Water as the middle distributor of water.

Illinois American Water provides a sophisticated EMERGENCY ALERT system regarding water emergency incidents, that includes a text message, recorded audio of the message, an automated telephone message, and a Google map showing the alert area.

The Northwest Water Commission does not provide any of this type of sophisticated alert. The Village of Arlington Heights provides annual water quality information, and only provides inconsistent alerts about water main breaks.

Illinois American Water provides a detailed multi-page website with information, including water infrastructure news and multiple fact sheets about water quality, water safety, lead, and water treatment. The website also includes an archive of the most recent water alerts (e.g., boil orders, emergency repairs, planned outages, etc).

The Northwest Water Commission web information is only a single page on the official Cook County government website showing the history of the water commission, and the structure of the commissioner form of government. A domain for is parked at

Illinois American Water serves about 1.2 million people in Illinois.

Illinois American Water is part of American Water Works Company, Inc., which is the nation’s largest investor-owned water and wastewater services company, according to American Water Works Company. The company is publicly traded (AWK) and has headquarters in Voorhees, New Jersey, and serves about 15 million people in 47 states in the U.S. and Ontario, Candada.

The Northwest Water Commission serves the residents of incorporated Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.

An alert that Mount Prospect residents received yesterday …

American Water Works Service Company, Inc.
STARTS 8/14/2018, 3:19 PM
2018.08.14 Boil Order Mt Prospect Wood Lane

This is an important message from Illinois American Water. A valve replacement has occurred in your area, resulting in a boil water order. You reside in the affected area. Customers in the affected area should bring their water to a rolling boil for 5 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. Water is OK for bathing, washing and other common uses.

This boil water order is being issued in accordance with Illinois EPA regulations. Anytime water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch in any part of a community’s distribution system, a boil order must be issued as a precaution to protect customers. This boil water order is expected to be in effect for approximately 24 hours. Information is also available online at
Thank you for your patience and understanding Show Less

Alert ID: 9-20777

Mount Prospect Water Alert from  Illinois American Water August 14, 2018Mount Prospect Water Alert from Illinois American Water August 14, 2018.



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Recent Arlington Heights water main breaks have not had any Boil Order or Do Not Drink Order issued.

Why is the Village of Arlington Heights not following the Illinois EPA guidelines?

Why is the Village of Arlington Heights failing to at least alert citizens about all water main breaks, when they lack the sophisticated alerting system that is available to our neighbors in Mount Prospect?

Why does the Village of Arlington Heights sophistication of water alerts, not match up to the standard and sophistication of the Village of Mount Prospect water alerts?

Water Main Break at Sigwalt Street and Dunton Avenue Arlington Heights in January 2015.Water Main Break at Sigwalt Street and Dunton Avenue Arlington Heights in January 2015.

See also …

Northwest Water Commission


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