Down the drain: Lost water costs Oak Park $1.2 million

Village seeks causes of unbilled water

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Breaks in water lines throughout the village could, in part, be the cause of $1.2 million in unbillable water costs in Oak Park, according to Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.

The Oak Park Board of Trustees discussed the topic at a July 2 board meeting, where it was revealed that in 2017 about 25 percent of the water purchased from the city of Chicago was unpaid for in the village, leaving the municipality to pick up the tab.

The number is a substantial increase from the year before, when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reported a water loss of about 20 percent in Oak Park. In 2015, there was about 18 percent in unbillable water, according to Wielebnicki.

Oak Park is among other municipalities in the Chicago area with a high percentage of unbillable water. IDNR reports that in 2016, 23 towns in northeastern Illinois had water losses that were 25 percent or more. Maywood reported a water loss of 48.7 percent that year and Berwyn 28.6 percent, according to the most recent data available.

Roughly 10 percent of the water purchased by any municipality is expected to be lost, due to leaks in old water pipes and evaporation, among other causes.

Deputy Village Manager Lisa Shelley told the Oak Park Board of Trustees that a substantial number of water main breaks in 2017 could be the culprit.

"That's a lot of water that's wasted, so that's why we want to look into it," Trustee Jim Taglia said at the board meeting.

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb noted that it's not just the cost that is cause for concern. "If we're losing $1.2 million just in cost, we have to find a way to figure that out for two reasons: One it's a loss of money, and two it's bad for the environment," he said.

Wielebnicki said in a telephone interview that the village usually pays for a leak detection survey of Oak Park's roughly 100 miles of water lines every couple of years, but the village is considering hiring a contractor to do the study, which costs about $20,000, every year.

He said the last leak detection study was conducted about two years ago.

Wielebnicki noted that Oak Park had twice as many water main breaks in 2017 as it did the previous year, at 24 and 12, respectively. In 2015, there were 15 water main breaks, he said.

The severity of the water main breaks and how long those breaks go undetected can make a big difference in the cost of water to the village, he said.

"The challenge with those is if it's a large water main, they can break and go into a sewer and we don't find out about it until there's a leak detection survey or it starts coming out of the ground," he said.

He said the village also uses metered water that it does not charge for, which he referred to as non-revenue water. This includes water used for street sweeping, flushing and cleaning fire hydrants and watering trees on village property. "There is a certain percentage of water that is expected to be unbilled," he said.

He said replacing old water meters also would help fix the problem of unbilled water. "We've stepped up our meter program to make sure they're recording as accurately as possible," he said. 

Wielebnicki said the village also is considering increasing replacement of old water lines to reduce water loss. The Public Works Department also is considering investing in portable leak-detection devices that can be placed in the system and moved around to better monitor problem areas.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 12th, 2018 3:19 PM

Telephoned the village and was given a great no response response. Adding to the point a fresh water underground leak might aid the environment because the ground beneath the surface away from evaporation is watering the roots. In all my years of sewer repair no one has ever questioned the contaminated soil from a broken sewer line, raw sewage mixing into the soil. That is an environmental issue.

Rich Schurr  

Posted: July 11th, 2018 11:12 AM

There were 3 breaks on the 1100 block of North Euclid last month with no plans to replace what is obviously an old, defective water main. Not only are we (taxpayers) paying for wasted water, we are also paying village employees overtime to fix the breaks. In what world does this make any sense?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2018 7:55 AM

Our town gives over $500,000 each year to the, not really being used in modern times, Regional Housing Center, rather than use the funds to keep our infrastructure solid and fix the water pipes. Why fix something real when you can pretend to fix something?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 10th, 2018 11:02 PM

'If we we are losing $1.2 million in cost, we have to find a way to figure that out for two reasons: One it is a loss of money, and two it is bad for the environment" How can leaking fresh water be bad for the environment? The fresh water returning through mother natures best filter, dirt, back to the water table, be an environment issue.Waste yes, environment, I would like an explaination. Power to maintain pressure is nevern turned off. Fresh water used to water the trees, flush the sewer system eventually takes the same path. That path is not considered an environmental problem.. I could understand fresh water under pressure cutting a sink hole causing a cave in, but that is not considered an environmental problem. Maybe there is something I don't know, and there is a lot I dont know. I do have a Field Masters Degree from Drainmaster University, Elmhurst, Illinois in power rodding sewers, sump pumps, sewer replacement, with the scars to prove it and I have never heard of a fresh water leak being an environmental issue.If memory serves me correct, half time of the 85 Bears Superbow victory a television crew was dispatched to the Chicago pumping stations to record the water level drop in the fresh water system from everyone flushing their toilets. I will call the village tomorrow and see if I can get an answer..

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 10th, 2018 10:07 PM

The village board has been aware of the deterioration of it's sewer and water system for well more than a decade. A significant percentage of it is over 100 years old.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 10th, 2018 9:58 PM

How much is this related to the aging water and sewer systems in our community?

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