Suburban Water System Rehabilitation

Illinois utility focuses on maintaining and improving award-winning distribution system.

Suburban Water System Rehabilitation

The Mount Prospect Water Utility team includes, front from left: Joe Markelonis, John Frank, Brad Coop, Jay Gomez and Tonya Bracher. Back: Mike Schuster, Max Orlandi, Doug Petro, Jake Sprow, Jeff Burger, Sean Feeney and Casey Botterman.

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Operating a distribution system may seem like a simple task compared to managing source water and treatment in addition to distribution, but that’s not necessarily the case.

The village of Mount Prospect, Illinois, is a community of 55,000 people situated just a couple miles north of O’Hare International Airport. The suburban community is mostly upper middle class with a couple of business parks and two golf courses within its 10 square miles. One thing it does not have, however, is its own water treatment plant.

Pipe replacement

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,” says Casey Botterman, Mount Prospect’s water and sewer superintendent. “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, and another 4,500 feet in 2019. The 2018 work focused on areas where there had been multiple main breaks: in and around downtown where the oldest pipes are located. The project carried additional significance 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 the event of a break. “Currently the breaks have not been in or between the yards,” he says. “But our luck would eventually run out.”

A new model

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, Botterman says. 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.

Conservation efforts

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.

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 biannual 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.


One of the more unusual challenges Mount Prospect faces involve an entirely different type of infrastructure: the three sets of 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 running directly beneath it. In late 2019, the village began lining 3,700 feet of 12-inch cast iron main under the road.

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.

Regular maintenance

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.

Each year, workers operate about 25% of the town’s valves and 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. 


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