Water source shift causes hope, concern

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

In recent years, water rates have been an issue for Homewood residents. The village gets its water from Harvey, but Harvey gets that Lake Michigan water from Chicago, and Chicago made a series of significant rate hikes over the past decade or so.

But rates now have competition for attention: water safety.

As David P. Funk reported in the Chronicle, at its July 9 meeting, the Homewood Board of Trustees directed staff to begin the process of shifting from Harvey to Chicago Heights as the source of the village’s water. 

In addition to Chicago’s rate hikes, Harvey’s system has had serious financial and maintenance woes.

The move is expected to stabilize and lower the rates the village pays for water, and trustees expressed appreciation for the work village staff put in on the project so far. They also expressed concern that the shift could have implications for water quality and safety.

Trustee Karen Washington was the first to sound a note of caution.

“I’m concerned. I want to make sure that this will be the right choice,” she said. “Have we really looked into the process extensively to be sure we don’t experience some of the problems that have been experienced by various towns when they have switched water systems?”

She did not refer to specific communities, but of course there have been several cases that have received attention, from the crisis in Flint, Michigan, to the recent situation in University Park, smaller in scale but closer to home. In Flint, a shift from one water source to another was blamed for an increase in lead in the city’s water.

Village Manager Jim Marino assured Washington that an engineering study would look closely at water quality issues, from assessing the source water to the infrastructure, existing and new, that will deliver water to Homewood. 

The study will “evaluate that in more detail and give us information about the quality of the water, what potential impacts there may be when we switch from one supplier to another,” he said.

Chicago Heights gets its water from Hammond, Indiana, which gets water from Lake Michigan, as does Chicago, so the ultimate source will not change.

Trustee Barbara Dawkins asked what the transition would be like for residents, whether they would notice any difference in their water. 

Public Works Director John Schaefer said there should be no noticeable difference, and Trustee Lauren Roman agreed. She said she visited a friend in Chicago Heights recently and sampled the tap water there. 

“It tasted exactly the same as the tap water in Homewood,” she said.

Trustee Jay Heiferman asked whether the engineering study would assess Chicago Heights water system as thoroughly as the village recently studied Harvey’s system.

Marino said the infrastructure would be scrutinized, but the water Homewood buys would not actually flow through Chicago Heights’ system. Instead, it will go through Lansing to Thornton, where Homewood will connect to the line.

Trustee Larry Burnson said he had two concerns. One was with reports of ice in lake intake pipes. The other was with a portion of the line that goes underneath the Little Calumet River. 

Schaefer said the icing problem was one Hammond had addressed by controlling intake rates and by adding heating elements to intake pipes. 

He acknowledged that if the pipe under the river ever broke, repairs might take a long time. He said the village had asked Chicago Heights to consider adding a second line as a backup.

The vote to proceed with the project was unanimous.

“We all need to be secure in the fact that we are going to have consistent, healthy drinking water,” Dawkins said.

2nd is still a win
Sister Mary Jo Sobiecki of Marian Catholic High School did not win the ESPY award for best viral sports moment.

Sister Mary Jo Sobiecki gets a big send-off from Marian Catholic High School students and staff on July 9 as she heads for the ESPY award ceremony in Los Angeles. (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)
  Sister Mary Jo Sobiecki gets
  a big send-off from Marian
  Catholic High School students
  and staff on July 9 as she heads
  for the ESPY award ceremony
  in Los Angeles.
 
 (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)
 


She came in second. 

That was still a win, though, considering the awards, which recognize great sports performance. Sister Mary Jo was nominated for her ceremonial first pitch last year before a White Sox-Royals game.

Apparently, not everyone expected a nun to throw a perfect strike. Video of her pitch when viral, getting more than 5 million views, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

The competition was tough. The winner was UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi. Video of her perfect 10 floor routine was viewed more than 40 millon times by the end of May.

Sobiecki was undaunted by failing to take the top prize. The whole experience was a win for her. 

“All the stuff that has happened this year with this pitch has been phenomenal,” she was quoted as saying in an ABC7 story. “It’s unbelievable. But all things are possible with God. I mean, this could just be the beginning.”

Her pitch and her spirit delighted millions of people and brought national attention to her school. 

That does look like a win.
 

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