Riverside and Brookfield have been around so long – more than 150 and 125 years old, respectively — that it can seem like they have always been there. But the tree-shaded streets were once just woodland and prairie, with nary a water main or sewer pipe running underground.
All of that infrastructure, which makes modern life convenient, clean and healthy, had to be painstakingly installed, a big chunk of it during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and paid for by those who developed the villages and its early residents.
Those who came later got to enjoy the benefits of the investment made by those people so long ago, to the point where sewers and water mains were taken for granted. All of that infrastructure is just part of the package, right?
And because it costs so much to repair and replace that infrastructure – now you have to rip up streets to get at the pipes and make allowances for other utilities – it’s been a tradition for elected officials in most municipalities to adopt an “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
Now, 100-plus years on, places like Riverside and Brookfield have pipes that are as old as the village themselves, built when the village populations totaled 2,000 or less, and those pipes are wearing out.
That’s why both villages this year proposed launching major initiatives to address that aging infrastructure before residents either face catastrophic system failures or to remedy shortcomings.
In Riverside residents can expect some sort of utility fee increase soon as officials begin tackling more projects to address storm water runoff that continues to flood basements and yards during what have been storms of increasing frequency and intensity.
It’s unclear at this point just how much more Riverside residents initially will be paying in increased utility fees to fund the estimated $11 million effort, but over the next few years that fee is expected to rise from $30 to $45 every two months.
In Brookfield, we already know what that number is. It’s going to cost the average water customer about $100 a year to fund an initiative to replace the village’s oldest water mains over the next 50 years.
More than half of the village’s water mains are at least 100 years old, according to officials, with another 20 percent at least 60 years old, meaning when the 50-year program is complete, 20 percent of the village’s water mains will still be more than 100 years old.
It’s a never-ending process that residents who enjoy living in a community have to face. There’s no magic pile of money to fund such critical infrastructure. It has been and will always be paid for by the people who benefit from the systems – just like streets and alleys (if you want them paved) and parks and fire engines and ambulances.
No one wants to pay more for such things – especially stuff you can’t even point at, like a fountain, and say, “Isn’t that grand?” But, unlike fountains, which are decorative, water and sewer mains are indispensable.
And at 100+ years old, they need to be attended to before everyone finds out just how much they are indispensable.