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Water Supply Emergency Response

Periodically all water supplies experience situations that call for immediate action to be taken outside routine day to day operations. These “emergency” response actions are intended to preclude risks to water supply consumers that could result from a failure in one of a water system’s many barriers of protection.

During emergency situations, water supplies must consult with the Illinois EPA as soon as practical to ensure that they are considering all of their systems’ vulnerabilities and to ensure that any public communications are consistent between the state and local entities. This timely discussion with the Illinois EPA also has the added benefit of reducing or eliminating regulatory issues.

When do I have to notify the Illinois EPA of a problem?

35 Ill. Adm. Code Section 607.103 requires a community water supply to notify the Illinois EPA whenever the safety of a supply is endangered for any reason. If in doubt, a water supply should always contact the Illinois EPA.

Who should I contact?

Be prepared to give the appropriate contact your name, what water supply you represent, your contact information (land and cell phone), a description of the reason for your call, whether the situation is being managed, and if you need a call back for technical or regulatory assistance.

During working hours, normally weekdays between 8:30 – 5:00, water supplies should contact the appropriate regional office of the Illinois EPA. If you cannot reach someone in the appropriate regional office, you may contact Illinois EPA headquarters in Springfield at (217) 782-1020.

Outside these working hours, water supplies should contact the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) at 800-782-7860 or (217) 782-7860. When IEMA receives notice from a water supply, contact is immediately made to an Illinois EPA duty officer. The duty officer then reaches out to a pre-established Division of Public Water Supplies phone tree that guarantees proper notice is processed by the Illinois EPA.

What if I have a minor after hours issue like a small water main break requiring a very limited boil order?

The Illinois EPA acknowledges that most water supplies have been through the drill many times and know how to issue and rescind a boil order, but a water supply must still process a boil order notification through IEMA to achieve regulatory compliance and to ensure that the Illinois EPA is aware of the issue. It is necessary to contact IEMA when the boil order is issued and again when it is rescinded.

Making this IEMA contact after hours also aids in fulfilling the requirement to contact county health departments of a boil order, as IEMA also notifies the Illinois Department of Public Health regarding reported incidents. Some county health departments have no after hours process to ensure compliance with the law.

What should I do if an emergency exceeds my ability to take action or respond (e.g., I need equipment that I do not possess)?

Following reporting the situation to Illinois EPA/IEMA, you may be able to implement a local mutual aid agreement with a nearby water supply or ILWARN, if your community has any such agreements. If neither of these is an option, you must contact your local/county emergency services and disaster coordinator, who will then process a request for assistant through IEMA. Since the Illinois EPA will already be aware of your situation, your request for additional resources will have state level support.

What other support documents should I have available to me in case of an emergency?

The Illinois EPA requires every community water supply to have an emergency response plan. This document should be considered a “living document” that is routinely reviewed and updated.

Water supply operational staff should also review data available on the Illinois EPA’s Public Water Supply web page, especially the “ Sample Collector’s Handbook." In addition to a chapter on boil orders, this handbook details many standard operating procedures for water supply operators to ensure regulatory compliance with safe drinking water program areas, including information on public notification under various circumstances.

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