By Bob Uphues
The village of Brookfield has moved to repair a host of leaks in its water system after an annual report indicated that an all-time high of 28 percent of water delivered to the village by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission went either unbilled or was unaccounted for.
Public Works Director Amy Wagner told the village board in late May that the roughly 200 million gallons of water either unbilled or unaccounted for had cost the village about $1 million in 2017 alone.
Records maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which monitors water pumped from Lake Michigan to municipalities throughout northeast Illinois, showed that Brookfield's water loss was more than 20 percent in 2015 and 2016, as well.
"It's mind-boggling to me that this has gone on so long," said Wagner, who took over as Brookfield's public works director in mid-September 2017.
After seeing the 2017 water-loss report, Wagner asked then-Village Manager Keith Sbiral to hire a company to perform a leak-detection survey of the village's water system to find out where the village's water was going.
Sbiral approved paying Valparaiso, Indiana-based M.E. Simpson Co. $11,000 to perform the survey, which the firm delivered in May.
"For the amount of money we're going to save to identify and take care of the leaks, that is money well-spent," said Wagner, who recommended to the village board that Brookfield conduct a leak-detection survey annually.
Wagner also recommended that the village conduct fire hydrant maintenance/flow testing and water main capacity testing annually. That would cost the village roughly $17,000 each year. For another $2,000 the village can also get all of its hydrants entered into its GIS database, updating the Brookfield water atlas with actual hydrant locations.
In its survey, Simpson identified 11 water main leaks scattered throughout the village in addition to 25 residential service line leaks, seven valve leaks and 16 hydrant leaks.
Two of the water main leaks, in the 4500 block of Prairie Avenue and the 8900 block of Fairview Avenue, each were losing about 43,000 gallons a day. Other leaks ranged between 7,000 and almost 30,000 gallons a day.
Not all of the unaccounted-for water is leaking out of the system. Some of the unbilled water is used at public facilities and buildings, is used to fight fires and powers such amenities the Ehlert Park splash pad (16 million gallons annually).
But, according to Wagner, the maximum acceptable water loss level as set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is 12 percent, and the agency is revising that number down to 10 percent in 2019.
In order to plug the leaks, the village in late May hired Brookfield-based Unique Plumbing on an emergency basis to immediately repair five of the worst leaks found in the Simpson survey. The three worst have already been repaired, and work on the other two began in early June.
The total cost of that work, which will be formally approved by the Brookfield Village Board as the invoices come in, is expected to be about $23,000.
Wagner said the village will address the rest of the leaks, including service line leaks, throughout the rest of the summer, repairing the worst ones first.
Brookfield is not the only municipality reporting high water losses annually in recent years. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website, in 2016 (the most recent report available) there were 23 northeastern Illinois towns that reported water losses of 25 percent or greater.
The two highest water-loss rates were reported by Maywood (48.7 percent) and Hometown (42 percent).
Closer to home in 2016, Riverside's reported water-loss rate was 20.4 percent, while North Riverside's was 10.2 percent. Lyons' water-loss rate was 33.2 percent, LaGrange Park was 9.1 percent, LaGrange was 24.3 percent and Berwyn was 28.6 percent.