Mt. Vernon’s 15,000 people are expected to be without water by 7 p.m. Thursday, joining those with dry faucets already in Johnston City and Carterville.
A water main – the only pipe leading from the plant to the 160,000 customers it serves – broke at about 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Rend Lake Conservancy District’s Inter-City Water Plant in Benton. The plant serves customers 30 miles in each direction of the plant.
Everyone in the water district is under a boil order as of 4 p.m. Thursday, said Larry Sanders, general counsel and media contact for the district. This includes those who have not yet lost water, but are asked to conserve it. The district did not have a definitive time for when water would be restored.
Rend Lake expects to have water partially restored in Carterville by the end of the day Thursday, according to the Carterville Police Department. When water is restored, the city will be under a boil order.
The partial water restoration would be made possible from a repair project to bypass the affected pipe, according to the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency. If it is successful, it should give some water to the system. The other repair project is to replace the affected pipe. Neither project had a planned time of completion.
On Thursday afternoon, Mount Vernon’s assistant city manager said the city is asking nonessential services to suspend operations. The city declared a state of emergency at 2 p.m., according to a post from the city on Facebook. Until the water runs out, a boil order has been issued for most of the city, and officials ask citizens to conserve water.
The mayor of Carterville, Brad Robinson, confirmed Thursday that the town's 6,000 or so water customers had been without water since about 8 a.m. Thursday. Johnson City Police Chief William Stark said early Thursday afternoon that his city was dry as well.
“We have none. There is no municipal water source at this time,” Robinson said.
Johnston City police have called in staff to provide water to those who need it, especially the elderly or those with infants.
"We're going to be delivering water all night long," Stark said. Police are logging who receives water so that they can follow up with those residents in the next few days.
The water plant’s 36-inch steel pipe that carries all the water from the plant to its customers broke right by the plant, Sanders said.
“Every gallon of water we send to the 60 communities we serve goes through that pipe,” Sanders said.
The plant first tried to repair the pipe but abandoned that effort in favor of a more immediate, partial restoration of service by using a bypass, Sanders said. Officials did not have an estimate of when that might be finished.
“They did try (to repair the broken pipe). They tried for 12 hours, two men down in a pit,” Sanders said.
The plant has access to another 36-inch pipe, Sanders said, but the problem is the fittings and clamps. Illinois American Water, St. Louis Water and American Water have all offered assistance with the specialty parts, he said.
“Our focus is on assisting our neighbors at this time. The folks working this situation are doing everything they can and we are here to assist our neighbors," said Karen Cooper, senior manager of field operations and production for Illinois American Water's Southern Division. "In the event of an emergency, Illinois American has response plans and procedures in place as well as American Water resources available across the state, region and country - we’ve accessed those resources to assist Rend Lake Conservancy District. We were able to provide some parts and reached out to a vendor on their behalf to procure other materials."
Sanders said the plant had a list of projects for repair and replacement, and the pipe that broke had not been on the list. The broken part is within 6 feet of pipe that was replaced in the last 10 years, he said.
“Obviously we wish we’d replaced it the day before yesterday,” Sanders said.
McLeansboro, with a population of about 3,000, is "playing Russian roulette," City Clerk Fred Vallowe said.
"We currently still have water, but it's getting to the point where it's questionable," Vallowe said late Thursday afternoon. The city had declared a water emergency on Thursday, closing restaurants, car washes and laundromats, and issuing a burn ban.
"One of the fire trucks we sent to Big Muddy (prison)" to supply water for sanitation, Vallowe said. The pumper fire truck refilled at Lake McLeansboro with nonpotable water.
"If I could say, we've very grateful to the city of Carmi. The water superintendent is going to allow access to the municipal faucet to allow people to fill up," Vallowe said. Carmi is not served by the Rend Lake facility.
"We're all trying to help each other out," he said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's office said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency had a call on Thursday morning to assess and prepare for support.
"I want to assure everyone affected that the State of Illinois will do everything in our power to ensure public health and safety is protected until this situation is resolved," the governor said.
District officials asked those in the district who still have water to conserve it.
Robinson, the Carterville mayor, speculated that Carterville was the first community to lose water completely because of its limited storage capacity.
“We have the capacity to store about 16 hours of reserve, and some of these other communities have 24 to 26 hours. Some of the small communities don’t have storage, but don’t have much usage,” Robinson said.
He added, “Unless Rend Lake is able to fix this problem and go back online, there will be other communities that will be affected today."
Sanders, the spokesman for the water district, said the first customers to lose water were those in the administrative offices of the plant. He said plant workers brought in bottled water and were “having to travel to the closest working toilet and port-a-potties.”
In Marion, which still had water at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, city and county officials had required motels, hotels and restaurants to close at 3 p.m. A water alert had been issued, a city worker said, and conservation efforts encouraged.
The federal prison in Marion, which houses some 1,300 inmates, has its own water treatment plant, a spokesman said. The prison encouraged its staff to use the prison's water supply to fill their own containers to take home.
An official with the state's Department of Corrections was not immediately able to comment on the water supply at the Big Muddy River Correctional Center, in Ina. At about 3 p.m. Thursday, the prison's website said the facility was on lockdown, but Warden Daniel Sullivan declined to comment. The prison has about 2,000 inmates.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Mount Vernon was scheduled to be closed all day Friday due to the water service. The office will reopen Monday.
All water-borne facilities at Rend Lake, like restrooms and shower houses, have been closed. Portable toilets and hand-washing station will be placed at open campgrounds, and fees for campers who choose to stay will be discounted by half as long as the facilities are unavailable. Incoming reservations will receive a full refund if they choose not to camp.
All areas will open Friday as planned. There is a total burn ban in effect due to the lack of water to fight fires. Campfires and grills are not allowed.
Where to get water if you need it
- The Carmi water superintendent is allowing access to the municipal faucet for people to fill up.
- Carbondale has a bulk fill station at the Water Treatment Plant, located at 2401 S. McLafferty Road.
- Bottled water distribution in Mt. Vernon at Veteran's Park goes until 9 p.m. Thursday, and will resume 9 a.m. Friday.
- Johnston County police have a limited amount of bottled water for the elderly or infants who need the water for formula.
- Gold's Gym in Marion has two dump trucks full of clean, non-drinkable water parked outside for anyone to take. Bring your own container.
- Rend Lake Golf Course is offering free bottled water.
- Bonnie Cafe in Bonnie is giving away 120 cases of bottled water starting at 9 a.m. Friday.
- Murphysboro has a bulk water purchase station by the 17th Street Water Tower, three blocks north of Walnut Street. Anyone can get 100 gallons of water for 25 cents.
The Student Recreation Center at Southern Illinois University has opened up its showers to anyone who may need one. Hours are 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.