DECATUR — Republican state Sen. Chapin Rose said Friday that he plans to introduce legislation this year to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from natural gas leaks like the one in 2016 that left several Champaign County residents with contaminated drinking water,
Rose, of Mahomet, wants to require state inspections of natural gas storage facilities and to create an emergency protocol to notify the public when leaks happen.
"I got six or seven constituents — and we're still trying to determine how many (are affected) — you can literally light their water on fire," Rose said Friday.
The Mahomet Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for 500,000 Central Illinois residents, including those in McLean and DeWitt counties. It provides 53 million gallons of water per year to 120 public water systems and helps supply water for rural wells.
State officials say the leak came from a site managed by Peoples Gas, which stores natural gas underground near the aquifer and transports it to the Chicago area for home heating. The Illinois attorney general filed suit against the company last year.
Rose said he and local government officials were not notified of the leak for months.
"In and around this leak are three water supply systems," Rose said. "If it had gotten into those systems, it could've potentially blown their water treatment centers sky-high."
Peoples Gas spokesman Brian Manthey told The Associated Press last year that the company had installed four gas-water separators and was providing bottled water to homeowners requesting it.
"We reacted quickly with significant resources to secure the well and contain the leak as soon as it was discovered in December," he said at the time.
The aquifer has seen increased attention in recent years over environmental concerns. The health of the Mahomet Aquifer became a major concern across the region after the owner of the Clinton Landfill sought state and federal permission to store waste from manufactured gas plants and chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
The state passed a law in 2015 to prohibit municipal landfills from storing gas plant waste, and landfill owner Peoria Disposal settled a lawsuit brought by communities the aquifer serves by agreeing not to accept PCBs and certain other chemicals without first getting permission from local governments.
Rose's legislation has not been filed yet, and it will likely come after the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force convenes in February, he said. The task force is charged with developing a statement plan to maintain water quality for the aquifer, a source of drinking water for 14 Central Illinois counties.