Recently, a car drove into a sinkhole that was 14’ x14’ and 12 feet deep.  Fortunately, the driver did not sustain life-threatening injuries, however, his car did. The results of this mishap could have been dramatically different, though, had the driver sustained significant injuries, of which it was a shock he did not.  Not too much was discussed about the incident and likely it will end up just another news story that will be forgotten, but there is so much more to this story that I would like to touch upon from a plumbing professional’s perspective.

The papers simply touched on the fact that our Chicago water main system has over 600 miles of pipe that are over 100 years old. Why is this a problem? Right now our existing mains are leaking 25% of the water they carry.  That is a lot of water!  In just one day our water mains are losing 250 million gallons of water due to leaks. It is not just the water that is wasted, though. Every gallon of water that is running through the pipes also uses a considerable amount of electricity to keep it under pressure, and remember…all of this water has also been treated at great expense. Therefore, we are wasting not only 250 million gallons of water but 25% of our entire operating budget to move and treat this water as well.

Another problem that the news completely skipped was that in order for that leak to open a hole of that size the dirt had to go somewhere. It went right into our sewers. Can you imagine the result of introducing 2,352+ cubic feet of dirt into a drain line? You might expect it to slow the drains a little. That is the last thing we need with the flooding the Northwest side has already experienced in recent weeks. Keep in mind too that this is happening every day all over the city right beneath our feet.

The bottom line is that in the not too distant future we will be in for some very steep increases in the cost of our water. Right now people who are supplied with Lake Michigan water enjoy some of the cheapest rates in the entire United States.  At this very moment, the City of Chicago is setting the stage for these increases. On a volunteer basis people all over the city can have a water meter installed in their home if they do not already have one. You might think it would be wise not to volunteer so the city won’t know how much water you use. It is actually just the opposite. If you are one of the homeowners that volunteer you are guaranteed that your cost of water will NOT be increased for 7 years any more than it would have been under the estimated bill. If however you do not volunteer and the city sends you notice that your block is getting water meters you will not get the same deal, and you will be getting a water meter. The city needs to so from an accounting perspective and they are actually under order from the EPA to do so as well.

It is everyone’s responsibility to save water. The city needs to for obvious reasons including protecting unsuspecting motorists, but it is each individual’s responsibility as well. Just minor changes in your use of water can have dramatic results. If you turned off the water while you are brushing your teeth or shaving, if your take shorter showers and if you install water-saving fixtures you could be helping preserve our greatest natural resource and at the same time be saving money. They say water is the next oil…let’s just hope it doesn’t get quite that expensive.