Solving a water problem in Shannon, Illinois

 In the last two years, the village of Shannon has been confronted with water system problems. It was discovered through routine state compliance sampling the village's water contained elevated amounts of Radium 226/Radium 228 and Gross Alpha beyond Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) limits. Fehr Graham, which was already working with the village, stepped in to help investigate and address the IEPA compliance issues.

We were surprised and not sure what to do when radium levels started rising," said Shannon Village President Bonnie Heckman Foust. "The biggest thing for us was the initial fear. Radium. Once we spoke to the public and explained what happened and what needed to be done, they've been supportive."

The Shannon Village Board asked Fehr Graham to develop a water system improvement plan intended to sustain the northwest Illinois community of about 750 people for many years to come. This plan was developed to address the water contaminant levels and other major water system needs in the village for the next 30 years. 

During the project planning and design phases, Fehr Graham worked with the Village Board to add operational efficiencies and system "backups" to ensure the village could provide safe drinking water to the residents in the most economical manner. The project includes a new well house and treatment equipment facility, a new production water well, village-wide water main distribution improvements and elevated tank painting.

Funding the project was key. Fehr Graham helped the village apply and secure a $4.03 million Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, or IEPA, loan. The IEPA loan will fund project planning, engineering design, all construction costs, construction inspection, project management and contract administration fees.

The IEPA set Shannon's loan term at 30 years, a first for the agency. The IEPA typically sets 20-year terms. Fehr Graham helped the village select the best funding option, assisted with loan repayment planning and conducted studies to determine water rates.

Water rates in Shannon will go up to support the village's water infrastructure and to pay off the loan. Residents paid $40 a month for water and sewer for some time, Foust said. In 2016, the Village Board raised rates to $55 a month. On Tuesday, the board voted to raise the rate to $71 a month effective Jan. 1. 

"Many said we can't afford an increase. We said, 'If you want clean water, you don't have an option,'" Foust said. "And once the EPA gets involved, you don't have a choice. Our people had cheap water for a long time. We were lucky for many years to have those prices. We must accept the whole concept of water and sewer being its own business in the village. It must support itself just from customer usage because no tax revenue goes toward it."

Fehr Graham's team also worked with the IEPA to reduce Shannon's interest rate from 1.76 percent to 1 percent for the entire term. Shannon will receive $500,000 in principal forgiveness on the project, meaning the village does not have to pay back that amount.

"We give a lot of personal attention to our clients," said Darin Stykel, with Fehr Graham. "We listen to their needs and desired outcome of the project, providing insight, ideas and recommendations for an overall system plan. We are committed to helping the client through the entire process, start to finish. We didn't just do engineering. Fehr Graham's knowledge and relationship with the agencies has helped with IEPA and USEPA compliance, reporting, and communication."

The improvements will be completed in 2018 and 2019.

"Fehr Graham has been great," Foust said. "This was too huge of a project to do without them, and I am sure we couldn't have. We needed them. We had a history of working with other engineering firms and having problems. Some of my board members who were through that with the other firms were leery. After working with Fehr Graham, they were grateful. And so was I."