Karol Armbruster has lived on Old Post Road in Boulder Hill for nine years, and has never had a problem with her water. But for more than a month now, she said, her tap water has tasted horrible, and smelled “like a wet dog.”
She’s bought bottled water to drink and cook with, and she’s replaced her filters and shower head. And still, she said, the rusty water coming from the shower is changing the color of her daughter’s hair.
“It’s been a major inconvenience, not to mention the expense,” she said.
Armbruster was one of eight Boulder Hill residents who took their water quality complaints to the Village Board on Monday, but they’re definitely not the only ones experiencing it. On Nov. 19, one of the village’s wells—number 14, on the west side—failed, and since then, water has been pumped from other sources around the village to compensate.
The problem, according to Director Mike Pubentz, is that changing the direction of the water through the cast iron mains under Boulder Hill has shaken loose built-up rust. And the problem will likely continue until Well 14 is back in operation and those mains are flushed.
Boulder Hill is an unincorporated area outside the borders of Montgomery, but the village provides its water.
The village initially informed residents of the problem with a press release on Dec. 5, but Pubentz said his department didn’t know the scope of the problem until a couple weeks later, when the volume of calls picked up. To date, he said, he’s received about 70 complaint calls, and his staff has determined that the affected area stretches from Boulder Hill Pass to the north and east, and Circle Drive West to the south and west.
“It seems to be concentrated in the southwest section of the Montgomery (water) system in Boulder Hill,” Pubentz said.
The village sent out 700 letters to Boulder Hill homes late last month, explaining the problem and outlining the repair schedule for Well 14, which was initially expected to be finished in March.
However, Pubentz said, given the magnitude of the issue, he and the village's contractor, Layne Christensen, worked out a way to expedite things—the village will take a motor intended for a new well and use it to replace the broken one in Well 14, he said.
Pubentz said Well 14 could be on line again in early February. In the meantime, his staff is offering to flush specific water mains, which he said is providing only inconsistent improvement.
As for long-term solutions, he said, the village has been replacing some of the older mains in Boulder Hill, but only when they break. Going forward, he said, the village will consider water quality and the size of the main as criteria for replacement.
While it’s not a health risk, according to officials, the rust causes other significant issues. Just ask Dale Sleeman, whose shower is covered in rust stains. (The village has provided rust-removing chemicals for people to use, but Sleeman says he’s already tried them, with no effect.)
Terry Jakubowski said her family has had to replace water filters and softeners clogged with rust. And Michael Way said he has used so much water flushing out his faucets that he’s calculated his next bi-monthly bill at more than $200.
“I’m asking you to make a moral and ethical decision and give us some remedy, and some form of compensation for what we have been through these last five weeks,” Way said.
While none of the trustees discussed offering a break on the water bills for residents, that would be a decision for the board, Pubentz said.
The trustees will next meet on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for a Committee of the Whole meeting, and Pubentz has promised a full timeline and cost estimate for the repairs of Well 14. Village Manager Anne Marie Gaura also said the village will provide regular updates on the repairs on its website.
“We are working on the problem, and we hope to have a solution before too long,” Village President Marilyn Michelini told residents. “We do sympathize, and we’re trying our best, and working on it continuously.”