A New “Water Problem” For Park Ridge


Park Ridge has a water problem, but not the one you’re thinking of.

Most residents are aware of the flooding problem. A recent report by the City’s water management consultant is estimating that remediating that problem at a 100-year storm level will cost upwards of $100 Million, not counting millions more in debt service. As we wrote in our 10.19.17 post, now the Council needs to move that plan forward to referendum so that the voters can weigh in on the relative costs-benefits.

But the first two parts of a multi-part series in the Chicago Tribune describe our other water problem: Somewhat pricey water and an aged drinking water infrastructure that may be leaking like a sieve.

According to the first Trib article (“Same Lake, Unequal rates,” Oct. 25), a Park Ridge household using 5,000 gallons a month pays $44.67 – higher than 81 of the 162 communities surveyed, including arguably comparable communities like Glenview ($34.97), Northbrook ($25.00) and Northfield ($36.34), but lower than Elmhurst ($53.26). The Trib article also points out that our water costs have increased 43% since 2013, when that cost was only $31.27.

But the more troubling information is contained in the second Trib article (“Billions lost, millions wasted,” Oct. 26) and relates to our water infrastructure.

Based on 2016 data (presumably, the most recent available), Park Ridge is losing 18.54% of its drinking water because of leaking pipes and/or water main breaks. That’s 50% higher than the state’s 12% acceptable loss standard.

The reason?

As of 2014, a whopping 61% of our 147 miles of water mains and pipes – almost 90 miles of it – was over 61 years old. And another 15% was between 41 and 60 years old.

If that’s true, we may be looking at the results of decades of water infrastructure incompetence, neglect and obfuscation. And as is too often the case with most government incompetence, neglect and obfuscation, 99% of the public officials responsible for this situation over those decades – elected, appointed and employed – are long gone from City government and, if questioned about their stewardships, will have no clear recollection of what, if anything, was discussed, not discussed, done, not done, and why/why not.

While we expect that some folks will whine about this kind of finger-pointing, Santayana correctly noted that: “’Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And repeating past mistakes is one of government’s few specialties, albeit an expensive proposition.

But the real significance of these water infrastructure shortcomings may be in relation to the planned flood remediation plan.

As it has been described, the flood remediation plan will involve opening up sizable portions of many City streets under which the sewers run in tandem with…you guessed it…water mains and supply pipes. So if those streets are going to have to be opened up for sewer work, it would seem an opportune time to also replace those old (and undersized?) mains and pipes.

Consistent with our favorite “measure twice, cut once” philosophy, opening up the streets once to correct two water-related problems would appear to be the smart approach.

That will add many additional millions of dollars, and debt service, to the cost of the flood remediation. And that might make a referendum a tougher sell – although the City Council might be able to address that problem by having two referendum questions: One for the sewer project, the second for the water infrastructure improvements.

Whatever the Council decides to do, however, needs to be done sooner rather than later.

The Council needs to get its hands around this water infrastructure problem ASAP and figure out how and how it can be done and at what cost in time to put that referendum question on the November 2018 ballot along with the flood remediation plan.

If the water problem, like the flooding problem, truly is the product of decades of neglect, then it is well past time to call the question so that the taxpayers can weigh in on both of those problems in the most meaningful way our society permits: At the ballot box.

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