Dixmoor experienced 10 water main breaks in a week, causing school to be canceled for two days, a boil order to be put in place and requests for emergency assistance from the state, village officials said Friday.
The frigid temperatures already triggered multiple water main breaks in early and mid-January. But once those breaks were patched, a slew of new fractures popped up as weather strained decades-old water infrastructure in the south suburbs.
“This is decades in the making. Nobody thinks about water until you turn on the faucet and there’s nothing there,” said Melanie Arnold, a project engineer for Robinson Engineering, which is contracted by Dixmoor as mechanical engineer consultants. “To actually have long lasting, impactful, long-term change, it takes time and it takes money and it takes effort.”
These breaks caused West Harvey-Dixmoor Elementary District 147 schools to be closed last Monday and Tuesday because toilets couldn’t be flushed and the faucet water was not safe to drink, said Village Trustee Teatroy Webster. Boil orders were triggered off and on including one that lasted several days, ending Friday morning.
Many other south suburbs, including Robbins, have dealt with old infrastructure, lead pipes and outdated flood prevention technology which exacerbates problems when weather stresses the water systems.
But Dixmoor has been hit especially hard since January brought sub-zero temperatures, causing about 15 breaks in one month. Mayor Fitzgerald Roberts requested funding Wednesday from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to help fund recent break repairs and to help repair future breaks.
Roberts’ office said an employee from Pritzker’s office visited Friday and discussed unlocking state funds to upgrade the infrastructure and possibly putting a state of emergency order in place to bring in short-term funds.
“If they don’t give us the emergency declaration, as long as they give us the funding to get the work done; that’s my emergency,” said Roberts.
At an unrelated event Thursday, Pritzker commented generally on the problem.
“Much of the infrastructure in the south suburbs, water infrastructure particularly, is so old and hasn’t been replaced in, as far as I understand, more than 60 years,” the governor said, noting there was some funding in the infrastructure bill. “But obviously, when you’ve got emergencies like this, we need to make sure that we are assisting in every way we can.”
The village is dealing with the immediate repairs where pipes burst as well as plans for more investment in overhauling the infrastructure. Arnold said the village is using a $10 million grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to conduct upgrades of the water system, including replacing two water mains and updating water meters. These repairs will be done by late spring, he said.
But Arnold said the village will need closer to $50 million to conduct all of the needed repairs to weather-proof the systems.
“It’s like 20% of what they need,” Arnold said. “With that $10 million, we’re not even able to start addressing neighborhood water main replacements. We’ve got to take care of the big infrastructure shortcomings of this system.”