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Great Lakes Article:

Residents campaign to stop waste water
By Rukmini Callimachi
The Daily Herald, Chicago

Just off Anderson Road, an open pipe hidden under a cover of Queen Anne's lace feeds 1.4 gallons of waste water per day into the village's Fiddle Creek.

The waste water comes from neighboring Wauconda's waste water treatment plant, which since 1990 has been dumping water into a leg of Fiddle Creek. The creek courses through Lake Barrington before joining the Fox River.

Residents of three Lake Barrington subdivisions that border the creek are appealing to the state Environmental Protection Agency and their own village officials to take action. The creek poses a hazard to their health, they say, and occasionally brings an unpleasant odor.

"The stink first hit me last August - it was like an open sewer," said Tom Scanlan, 68, president of the Saddlewood Homeowners Association on Anderson Road, one of three subdivisions that border the creek. The odor prompted him to fill a bottle with water from the stream and take it to local health authorities last year.

The Lake County Health Department found that the water contained 3,750 molecules per 100 milliliters of fecal coliform - more than seven times the state standard for beaches and swimming holes. Beaches on Lake Michigan are closed after levels exceed 500 molecules per 100 milliliters, said the department's Mark Pfister.

Because the area surrounding the creek was undeveloped in 1990, the IEPA exempted the plant from its standard disinfection procedure, allowing the village to treat only for organic compounds - and not for fecal matter.

That exemption is up for review on Sept. 9, when Wauconda will apply to the IEPA for a variation to its permit. Wauconda is asking for a plant expansion that would increase the plant's daily outflow to 2.4 million gallons per day. It is also asking to keep the disinfection waiver.

But Lake Barrington residents oppose increasing the plant's daily outflow. In fact, they want the outflow stopped altogether.

"This is like Love Canal No. 2. There's no such thing as clean waste water," said Lakeland Estates resident Al Phillips, a member of the recently formed Save Fiddle Creek Wetlands group. "We don't want disinfection - we want total disconnection. The pipe needs to be plugged," he said.

IEPA officials say that the disinfection exemption will only be granted if Wauconda can prove that there is little chance of human contact with the waste water - an unlikely scenario given that the Saddlewood, Lakeland Estates and Twin Pond Farm subdivisions have all been built on the periphery of Fiddle Creek.

"The No. 1 concern is human contact. Is it running through a subdivision's back yard or near a school?" said Alan Keller of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

In concept, the Lake Barrington village board backs its residents. On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a resolution opposing Wauconda's permit request, arguing that the waste is a threat not just to the residents of the three Fiddle Creek subdivisions, but to the aquifer of Lake Barrington as a whole. It added the words "in concept" to the resolution, however, pending the results of an independent engineering study, commissioned by the village.

The Lake County Forest Preserve is also paying for an independent study.

"We are concerned about the potential impact to the forest preserve and to its users," said Forest Preserve President Bonnie Thomson Carter. "I can understand the sentiment of people who don't want to have waste water going through their back yards," she added.

Wauconda Village Attorney Rudy Magna said the village originally thought it would receive a permit this summer without objection but now faces at least a four-month delay to begin plant expansion. However, if the IEPA decides the treatment plant needs to be reworked based on public concern, it could be held up longer, he added.

"I'm very confident the village is going to do what it needs to meet IEPA standards," Magna said. "If everybody has some patience, it will work out in a win-win situation."

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