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Gov. Rauner signs bills to help protect East Central Illinois water source from natural gas leaks

MAHOMET —Gov. Rauner today signed legislation that requires gas storage field owners to notify local communities if natural gas leaks threaten to expose residents and businesses to contaminated water. The new law also mandates annual storage field inspections by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Notifying local residents and business owners will help ensure gas companies follow best practices and protect Illinois families from exposure to contaminated water that could pose serious public health concerns,” Rauner said. “I have great respect for Sen. Rose and all of his efforts on behalf of his community. Without him we would not be here signing this today.”

Aimed at protecting the Mahomet Aquifer, East Central Illinois’ primary water source, House Bill 4746 responds to a gas leak in Champaign County in 2016. Local officials and area residents were not informed about the leak that contaminated private wells and was so severe that residents reported being able to light their water on fire.

“The importance of this law can’t be overstated for the people of Central Illinois. As if the Peoples Gas leak wasn’t bad enough, their response to it — or really lack of a response to it — simply added insult to injury,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

“These new notice requirements were developed in consultation and cooperation with the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), and this legislation was pushed with their full support to require immediate local notification in the event of an incident.

“No one wants to see this happen again. Period. Therefore, and more importantly, this legislation also now requires that DNR annually inspect and oversee Peoples Gas’ operation of the storage field that sits on the aquifer,” Rose said.

“The Mahomet Aquifer is a precious water source to many Illinoisans,” said IEC Executive Director Jen Walling. “The natural gas leak in 2016 threatened that source and changed the quality of life of many residents. We are grateful to Gov. Rauner for signing this legislation, which will add new protections and notification if there is a natural gas leak into the aquifer. Thank you to the bipartisan group of legislators, especially Sens. Rose and Bennett and Rep. Ammons for protecting our water.”

The annual DNR inspections will look for infrastructure deficiencies or failures that could affect public health. The costs of the annual inspections will be paid by the owners of the gas storage fields. The DNR will establish criteria for what constitutes an incident.

“The Mahomet Aquifer is the state’s only sole source aquifer and serves as the primary source of drinking water for more than 500,000 Central Illinois residents,” said state DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal. “This new law creates a commonsense approach to ensure that the citizens relying on the aquifer receive quick notification of any unintentional natural gas releases which may affect it. The department appreciates the effort that went into the passage of this legislation and is prepared to implement it as quickly as possible.”

“I want to thank my fellow Sen. Scott Bennett, who was my chief co-sponsor in the Senate,” Sen. Rose continued. “In the House, Rep. Carol Ammons stepped forward to help revive the legislation after an earlier version was held hostage by a Chicago-area democrat who doesn’t live anywhere near our aquifer. With their help and the critical support of our other Champaign County legislators, Reps. Brad Halbrook, Bill Mitchell and Chad Hayes, and with thanks to Gov. Rauner for signing the legislation, we are adding great protections to our most important resource: the Mahomet Aquifer.

“Finally, I want to thank the hard work of our local delegation on the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force who are tirelessly fighting to keep our water supply safe. I am looking forward to our task force bringing forward more recommendations for public policy changes as it completes its work later this year to ensure that this invaluable resource remains just that for future generations,” Rose concluded.

“I appreciate all the bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans,” said Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, who sponsored the legislation in the House. “This bill is of great importance to many people who have fallen on hard times.”

The new requirements exceed federal standards.

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