by Norm Winick

It's easy to take your drinking water for granted -- unless you live in Henderson. The sleepy village several miles north of Galesburg has residents feuding with each other over what to do about the quality of tap water in the community.

Reina Thompson started the latest controversy with a letter she mailed to all the residents alleging that her four children were constantly sick after moving to Henderson in October, 1999. She also pointed out that the ''Henderson Water Quality Report-2000'' which was recently mailed to residents indicated that the village had the maximum allowable microbial contaminants and that the test results were from 1998. She also says the report indicates that young, old and sick people (and people who have ever been sick) should drink their tap water only after consulting a physician. She concludes that hooking up to Galesburg tap water would solve the problems at a cost of only about $5 per month additional.

An anonymous letter from ''Residents for Galesburg Water'' was more specific about the advantages of connecting to Galesburg. It indicated that the cost to connect was similar to the cost of drilling a new well and that if they hooked to Galesburg, that city would be responsible for EPA compliance. In addition, it points out, a $300,000 sand filter would be unnecessary if they hooked to Galesburg water.

Edie Whetstine sent out a letter to residents responding to Thompson's. She makes it clear, ''I do not want Galesburg water. They raise their prices every time they turn around. Abingdon just got raised again. So for having prices locked in for five years at the same rate, wrong. Galesburg controls the pricing. For a family of four, it is $30 a month.''

She continues: ''We need something done but Galesburg water is not the answer. We are a small town and have a lot of families on a fixed income and some of the elderly with a lot of medical payments each month; they cannot afford the additional expense of Galesburg water.''

''We lived in Wataga for three years and the sulphur smell was very bad. We bought bottled water delivered to our door that was cheaper than what the price of Galesburg water would be.''

''We came here to get away from the Galesburg water rates and all the politics. Not only will we have higher water rates, our property taxes will go up if we hook up to Galesburg water.''

''We are a small village and we want to keep it that way. You made the choice to move here. So, if you miss the excitement of the big city, we will miss you when you leave''

The cost issue isn't as clear-cut as Whetstine's letter indicates. Julie Baldwin, village president and a supporter of hooking to Galesburg, says the reason the rates are currently so low is because the water department loses money every month on every resident. ''It costs us $14.90 per month per household on an average to provide them water and we've only been charging them $12 per month. We lose $2.90 per household per month. That's over $5,000 per year the village is losing.''

Todd Baldwin, the mayor's husband and a community activist in his own right, is more concerned about the water quality than the cost. ''Before I put a filter system in my house, I complained about the sediment in the water. I was informed by our water superintendent that the sediment was algae and was protein and was good for you.''

In November, 1999, I took a bucket of water and some used filters to a village board meeting. My filters were plugging up in three days; they should last for 90 days or 30,000 gallons. I was informed by a senior board member that I should have had my water tested before I moved into my new house.''

''The board did send the filters in to be analyzed. They came back with manganese, iron and bacteria. It's just a good-old-boy network here. 'If you don't like it, leave.'''

Todd Baldwin says the EPA is now involved but not the Knox County Health Department. ''The Health Department cannot test municipal water supplies.''

Julie Baldwin says that not everyone's water is as bad as hers. ''Some of the people who live in the older part of town get better tap water. In the low-lying areas and on the end of lines, we get sediment, bacteria and who knows what else. That's not right. Everybody should get good water.''

Todd is more direct: ''I want my water not to have this crap in it. I want bacteria-free water with regulated chlorine levels. People in this town have bacterial infections constantly. When people are telling me my water is safe to drink and it looks like that, I don't believe them. I have complained for six months and they have not regulated the chlorine in the water.''

Todd went on to add that bacteria in the water could possibly have been responsible for a case of bacterial meningitis that struck a resident of the village. The Mayo clinic's web site indicates that the Listeria bacteria, known to exist in contaminated municipal water supplies, can, in rare instances, cause bacterial meningitis ''when the listeria invades the bloodstream.''

Reina Thompson is equally emphatic. ''I want to be able to drink our tap water. I want to do whatever it takes to meet EPA standards.''

Julie Baldwin says she is continuing to pursue water options. The most expensive seems to be constructing 2.8 miles of pipeline from OSF St. Mary Medical Center to the village but she says grants may be available to offset the estimated $360,000 construction cost. Even if the residents had to pay for it all, she says the bill for water, loan payment, and operation and maintenance would run about $35 per month per household -- much less than the $100 per month she says some residents could now pay for tap water, bottled water to drink and a whole-house filtering system. One board member even installed a $5,000 filtering system in his own house.''

Even if the village board takes the least expensive option, a new well, pump and aerator, residents' monthly bills will more than double to an estimated $24.70 per month. Julie Baldwin says that doesn't solve the real problem of the quality of the water. ''People in this village are entitled to water that they can safely drink, wash their dishes and clothes in and doesn't make them sick.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 8, 2000

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