Dixmoor water returns, a village under boiling ordinance | Chicago News


A week ago on Saturday, water pressure in the southern suburb of Dixmoor, a village of around 3,600 residents, dropped so rapidly that residents and businesses were left without running water.

No showers. No brushing of teeth. No laundry. No splashing from the faucet for washing hands, or for drinking. This means that businesses and schools have had to close.

Things improved on some Monday, although a boil-out order is in effect.

“Right now you can shower, you can bathe. The dressers flush the toilet. But they just don’t want you to drink the water right now, ”said village president Fitzgerald Roberts. “Our tanks are filling up. But at the same time, I don’t trust the water and of course I don’t want people to trust the water just yet, until the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) tells us. gives the green light.

Roberts was one of those who went days without swimming. While he said he had other places to go, he considers himself “the captain of the ship”, facing in the same boat as the other residents.

He was tired Monday after days of delivering potable water to residents, and that afternoon unloading a semi-truck with donated bottled water.

The frustrations above the ground echo the problems below.

Roberts said someone closed a valve they shouldn’t have.

“Not knowing what they were doing, they turned it on too quickly, which made a hammer effect because there was too much pressure, then the door inside that is on the valve fell out. mostly closed, which prevented water from reaching Dixmoor from Harvey, ”said Roberts.

From his perspective, there is an element of human error.

But he says it’s mostly infrastructure in need of repair. Roberts said that before the crisis, Dixmoor had encountered water problems due to obsolete pipelines; this was exacerbated by the valve problem.

“We’re trying to get this back on track. It’s going to take a while, ”said Roberts. “We didn’t have a big problem before, but we had bad infrastructure.

Engineer Jeffrey Freeman is not directly involved in the Dixmoor situation, but can crudely explain.

Freeman, president of Engineering Enterprises Inc. and a board member of the Illinois American Water Works Association chapter, said Chicago supplies water to Harvey, which supplies water to Dixmoor.

“So to go from Lake Michigan through a treatment plant where it’s then pumped through transmission lines to Harvey, then eventually to Dixmoor’s water systems, then it’s pumped back to the residents and finally to their sinks, it’s a long way. and it takes a lot of infrastructure to get from Lake Michigan to the tap, ”Freeman said.

And in Dixmoor, much of this water infrastructure is old.

As with water pipes in the United States and the Chicago area, its pipes predate World War I.

” Not everywhere. I mean some of the newer communities, certainly if their water supply systems were commissioned in the 1950s, 1960s, or even later, you’re not going to see that. But in a lot of communities in northeast Illinois that have been around for a while, probably have that infrastructure, ”he said. “And a lot of them know it, understand it and plan it. It’s just that they don’t have the income to be able to meet all the challenges they face.

Jeremy Orr, of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Safe Water initiative, says this happened in Dixmoor is no coincidence.

“We know that these types of water problems have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, communities of color, marginalized communities. We know this is true nationally, ”Orr said. “When we look at the data showing where the water is most likely to have some kind of contaminant and be poisoned, it’s communities of color. Where are communities most likely to have their water cut off? They are communities of color. Who pays the highest water prices? They are communities of color.

At the same time, given the centuries-old water systems in Cook County and the country, most communities could face a similar crisis.

“It’s over. It’s not just in these communities. I think these communities are suffering the worst – we know it’s true. But we’re only at an incompetent decision of any other community having this type. of problems, ”Orr said.

Cook County Regional Emergency Management Safety Director William Barnes Jr. said it was more than just an inconvenience.

“It not only impacts the ability to cook, bathe or wash clothes, but it also impacts public safety and public health,” Barnes said. “The reason the boil order is in place is that the water lines in Dixmoor are no longer under pressure, allowing groundwater to potentially seep in, which could contain contaminants.”

There is no evidence that this is happening; the boiling order is strictly preventive.

There are other risks: Low pressure means there is no water in the hydrants.

One of Barnes’ jobs was to help coordinate services with neighboring departments, so they are warned about transporting tankers in the event of a fire in Dixmoor.

Cook County has also made showers available to nearby forest conservators and has crews who worked to help identify the problem with the water pipes.

Barnes said the situation highlights the need for investment in Cook County’s water infrastructure.

President Joe Biden’s still stalled Build Back Better program calls for $ 111 billion to be spent on clean water initiatives.

Orr said it was the first time that a president has placed such a public focus on water improvements, although there are many polls to make sure everyone has access to water. whether it’s by removing lead pipes or improving stormwater systems.

“Money is only part of it,” Orr said. “Money is absolutely necessary. But what it takes are solid plans from local and state governments to actually put those dollars to work. That’s the other piece … So we need to know where the failing infrastructure is, where is it collapsing, where the upgrades are most needed, where the hardest hit communities are, so that we can put money into it. It requires real plans.

Water, he said, is a human right.

“There is no reason why people in the United States cannot have access – uninterrupted access – to clean, safe water,” Orr said. “Dixmoor is just one example of the need to upgrade infrastructure. “

Even Biden’s proposal falls short of the trillions of dollars that the American Water Works Association says are needed for upgrades and expansions.

“You think in most cases people’s water bill is less than their cell phone bill or less than what they pay for internet service or TV or whatever,” Freeman said. . “You really get great service for a very small amount of money and you don’t really recognize it until there are challenges. “

Freeman said these repairs to the water pipes could lead to higher water rates.

In Dixmoor, costs are rising.

Village chairman Roberts said that because no one knew the root of the problem, when the water ran out in the Diksmoor Reservoir, two turbines and a circuit board were burnt, costing the less $ 200,000.

He says it’s a financial burden Dixmoor can’t handle.

“It will not fall, I repeat, will not fall on the residents,” said Roberts.

He seeks help from the federal and state governments.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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