Diligent Care for the Water System Earned an Illinois Village a Utility Water Saver Award

The Illinois village on Mount Prospect earns accolades for a disciplined approach to maintaining its water system and curtailing water losses

Diligent Care for the Water System Earned an Illinois Village a Utility Water Saver Award

The Mount Prospect water utility team includes, kneeling, from left, Joe Markelonis, maintenance worker; John Frank, electrician; and maintenance workers Brad Coop, Jay Gomez and Tonya Bracher. Standing, Mike Schuster, foreman; Max Orlandi, maintenance worker; Doug Petro, foreman; Jake Sprow, Jeff Burger and Sean Feeney, maintenance workers; and Casey Botterman, water and sewer superintendent.

The Illinois village of Mount Prospect has not had its own water plant for decades. It does have plenty of challenges to satisfy the demands of a suburban Chicago municipality, and it has one challenge found in few other places.

The village sits a couple of miles north of the concrete expanse of O’Hare International Airport. It’s home to about 55,000 people with upper-middle- class incomes, a couple of business parks and a couple of golf courses within its 10 square miles.

Last year, diligent care for the water system earned the village a Utility Water Saver Award from the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association.

Constant activity

The village used to draw water from 17 wells and still has five, but those are only for emergencies. Water now comes from the City of Chicago’s Jardine Water Purification Plant on the shore of Lake Michigan. The Northwest Suburban Municipal Joint Action Water Agency, a consortium of local governments, buys water from Chicago and pumps it to member municipalities, including Mount Prospect.

Three delivery structures connect the mains from the water agency to the village distribution system, says Casey Botterman, Mount Prospect’s water and sewer superintendent. At no time is the system idle: “We always have something filling and something pumping,” Botterman says. “We don’t want to have something pumping and nothing filling.” 

Although they’re a last resort, the deep wells are checked monthly. Technicians sample the water and run the pumps, but the water drawn goes into the storm sewer instead of the distribution system.

Although Mount Prospect depends on Chicago’s water, the village distribution system has the capability to add chlorine for disinfection byproduct control. Where to add chlorine, and how much, is governed by daily residual sampling at each pumping station. “Usually the stations farthest away from the delivery structures are where the residuals are lower, so that’s typically where we boost chlorine,” Botterman says.

Stepping up rehab

More complex samples, such as tests for coliform, are sent to an outside laboratory. The village is 100 years old, and its oldest pipes are about that same age. A 2015 study evaluated the village’s needs and recommended rate changes and a program to replace aging pipes.

Every year, the village replaced lines, but only a small number because of budget constraints. “But since the water rate study we did, we have increased that to replace every water main within about 130 years,” Botterman says. “At the rate we were going before, we were at about 600 years.” 

The village replaced about 4,000 feet of 10-inch cast iron water main in 2018 with class 56 ductile iron main and 4,500 feet in 2019. The 2018 work was in areas where there had been multiple main breaks: in and around downtown where the oldest pipes are. The job has worked out well for the future because a redevelopment is planned for a two-block area downtown. The replacement of old 6-inch lines with new 10-inch lines provides more capacity for fire suppression in the area.

Among the pipe replacements in 2019 were some in neighborhood cul-de-sacs. “We average two to three main breaks there a year,” Botterman says. “Usually when we dig one up, there are multiple holes and multiple repairs.”  

When the work was done, the new water mains were looped so they came out of each cul-de-sac. Old mains cut through yards — not a good idea because of the digging necessary in case of a break. “Currently the breaks have not been in or between the yards,” he says. “But our luck would eventually run out.”

Saving water

The village’s award-winning work on water conservation includes automated metering and submetering for multifamily housing, development of a plan to sustain the system, and repairing and replacing inefficient infrastructure.

“Definitely the amount of water used has gone down,” Botterman says. Fewer people use municipal water on their yards because of the cost; and codes require water-efficient fixtures in buildings. Before automated metering, residents in apartment buildings would call in their meter readings. Once a year, the village would audit those accounts. “And, surprisingly, it was pretty accurate,” Botterman says. “They were telling the truth.”

The award nomination covered the village’s multipronged water-conservation work. It includes:

  • A twice-annual leak detection program
  • Fire hydrant replacement running seven months each year
  • Regular quality tests of commercial and other nonresidential water meters
  • Replacement program for older water meters
  • Locating and exercising of distribution system valves, plus valve repair and replacement
  • A water main upgrade project.

In addition, a community education program provides dye tablets to residents at no charge. Tablets allow residents to see quickly whether the flapper valves in their toilets are leaking; as AWWA information points out, a leak of 100 drips per minute equals water loss of 350 gallons per month. Included in community education are annual open houses for the Public Works Department that typically attract more than 3,000 people who learn about their water supply through posters, hands-on exhibits and games. 

Rumbling challenge

The unusual challenge that Mount Prospect has is the set of three train tracks cutting through the middle of the village. These carry freight trains and commuter trains to and from Chicago and its suburbs. From about 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., commuter trains move through the village in both directions about once an hour — every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hours.

Water pipes run beneath those tracks. “We have valves on each side to isolate it if there is a break there,” Botterman says. Fortunately there aren’t too many locations where pipes cross the tracks. Still, the 2015 study called for replacing those pipes. That would mean some type of digging or perhaps directional boring, but the railroad’s right-of-way extends into the soil, and it is unclear what restrictions the railroad may place on such a project.

Because of the complications involved in digging, the best potential solution is cured-in-place pipe lining. Next to the railroad tracks is another complication: U.S. Highway 14, under the control of the state Department of Transportation and with a water main beneath it. In late 2019, the village began lining 3,700 feet of 12-inch cast iron main under the road.

Regular maintenance

The state requires new pipe installations to be sleeved, and because of existing utility lines, new water pipes would have to be about 13 feet below grade. Current lines are 6 to 7 feet down. The estimated cost of laying pipe beneath the road makes lining attractive.

The top recommendation in the village’s 2015 study was to enlarge the 12-inch main under the highway to increase the water supply capacity on the north side of the village, improve flow for fire suppression in the redevelopment and improve the movement of water to the village’s elevated tank. Because of the complications of working under the road, the planned new 16-inch line will take an alternate route through neighborhoods. “It will be like a transmission main, but there will be residential taps off it,” Botterman says. 

In addition to the long-term projects, Botterman’s crew keeps busy with annual work. Each spring and fall, a crew visits every hydrant and listens for leaks. Workers also replace 25 to 30 hydrants annually. They’re old models and no longer manufactured, so as technicians pull the old hydrants, they save the parts.

Tank upgrades

Each year, workers operate one-quarter of the town’s valves and in the process assess their condition. Five to 10 valves are replaced each year. Buffalo boxes, a type of curbside valve, are checked on a six-year cycle. “We check to see if, for one, we can locate it and get the key on it,” Botterman says. “The result of the inspection will lead into our repair program if we need to dig something up or to locate, raise or lower one.” 

In 2019, the village finished rehabilitating the last of its seven water tanks, ranging from 1 to 2 million gallons. Six are steel, and the other is concrete. All roof beams on the last tank were replaced because of slight corrosion. There was some miscellaneous steel work, the interior was blasted and painted, and the exterior received spot priming and a full coat of paint.

It’s a lot of work keeping up a system without a water treatment plant, but it keeps Mount Prospect on track for a future with reliable water.

Making supply certain

Mount Prospect buys water from a large consortium of local governments — the Northwest Suburban Municipal Joint Action Water Agency — and has its own wells. It also has backups to make sure water keeps flowing to customers.

There are interconnections with the neighboring suburbs of Arlington Heights and Des Plaines, says Casey Botterman, water and sewer superintendent. The village also connects to Illinois American Water, which serves two small pockets of the village.

But in an effort to improve water security, the village is looking into another option. “The Northwest Water Commission has a transmission main to Arlington Heights that runs right through Mount Prospect,” Botterman says. “This is a long-term project and we’re at the beginning, but we are looking to have an interconnect with them. Then we would have two straws in Lake Michigan.”

Both consortiums would supply Chicago city water, but if something ever went wrong with the primary supply from the water agency, the second connection would allow the village to operate a couple of valves and have a large supply of water.


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