Public Watchdog.org

A New “Water Problem” For Park Ridge

10.27.17

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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

8 comments so far

This is terrible news. Money was wasted on the uptown TIF project when it should have been spent fixing infrastructure issues. So now a potential double whammy in increased taxes over the short, intermediate, and long term. Fortunately interest rates are still relatively low, but these are costly projects. Even if they put both to referendum, what happens if they both pass?!? Higher taxes obviously! It is going to be too expensive to live in Park Ridge if property taxes keep on going up.

Definitely two referendum questions. Both are important enough issues that have been put aside long enough, so wouldn’t it make to make them binding referendums as opposed to advisory?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely!

Outstanding post! I love this town and have lived here for almost 20 years but had no idea how badly the infrastructure had been neglected until Mayor Schmidt formed the flood task force that started warning about it.

But that started eight years ago. Now it’s up to the current Council to make up for the neglect of the ones who ignored it for so long.

Is anybody at City Hall even talking about this water problem? I’m new to Park Ridge and try to pay attention to local government matters, but I have not heard anything about the problem since the blog posted this and I read the Tribune articles.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We were aware of some water issues, but nothing close to the horror show that the Tribune reported.

Does our water department (or is that public works) even know where all the leaks are, or how old each block of mains or pipes are? Do they know the same information about the sewers?

This is not rocket science, so why city government isn’t on top of all this is mind-boggling. What has Zingsheim been doing all these years, or Mitchell, of the aldermen chairing public works? I feel totally in the dark about all this, including whether my own block or neighboring blocks are among the areas that have 60 year old water lines or sewers.

We should STOP all multi-unit residential development, and maybe also licensing larger homes on existing sites, until we better understand these problems and come up with a good plan for fixing them that the taxpayers support.

I don’t intend to ever leave Park Ridge other than in a coffin, so I’m committed to seeing these problems addressed before I have to even consider the possibility of moving.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Therein lies one of the problems: People with pre-school or school-aged children who unashamedly admit to (a) moving here from Chicago or some other lower-taxed community with perceived lesser-quality public schools for the better “free” education here, and (b) planning to move to a lower-taxed community as soon as their kids graduate. Meaning they’ll consume hundreds of thousands of dollars of “free” education per kid (9 years of D-64 @ $16K/year = $144K/child + 4 years of D-207 @ $17K/year = $68K = $212K/child) while paying only a small fraction of that in RE taxes to both school districts (13 years of $10K/year in taxes to D-64/D-207 combined = $130K), a shortfall of $82K for just the first kid, which grows by $212K for each additional kid with no increased RE taxes to cover it.

I am betting that either flooding or water are too much of a political third rail for the aldermen running in April 2019, so both of them will be kicked down the road until after the 2019 elections.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That would be unfortunate. And cowardly, if politics is the reason.

The Trib articles described how the best communities at managing their water loss use cameras and sensors to identify the major leaks and fix them. Does PR have similar technology? If not, now’s the time to get it and start using it. I agree completely with your point that we might be able to fix the sewers and water lines on some streets at the same time, saving both time and money – but first let’s identify where the problem pipes are, rather than just replacing them based on their age.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agreed re the “problem pipes,” but the City also needs to know what the useful life of the other pipes are – as well as the adequacy of the sizing.

P.S.: We assume you submitted virtually the same comment earlier today with the suspicion that we did not receive this one. This editor’s day job got in the way of timely posting this comment yesterday, so we trust you do not mind us not posting your follow-up comment.

And to think that the Chicago water fees continue to go up. Then there the polluted aviation air we are made to breathe….Chicago owns the water rights and the air rights…..where is the leadership at 505 ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In an undisclosed location planning a tactical nuclear strike on the 5th Floor of Chicago’s City Hall?



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