Where does my water come from?

July 2, 2014
Jardine water purification plant, bottom left

Adjacent to Chicago’s Navy Pier, the Jardine water purification plant is the largest capacity water filtration plant in the world. It delivers almost a billion gallons of potable water daily, serving over 5 million residents in Chicagoland. My suburban community, Oak Park, has received its water from the City of Chicago since 1912. Back in the day, 1000 gallons cost the village only 7 cents, now it costs $7.37. That’s about 3x inflation, but still seems like a pretty incredible value.

Despite obtaining a degree in civil engineering, I honestly never thought much about where my water came from until I purchased a house and had to arrange for water service. Despite the relative affordability, I’ve become a stogy old man about water conservation. In the last 90 days we’ve consumed 11,000 gallons at a price of $81.07. Thankfully, it’s raining a lot, so I’ll have to use less on plant watering this month.

In addition to the water, I also get an annual water quality report. I’ve had to dig up my old water resources notes in order to comprehend the readings. Like… Is 0.18 tubidity good? That would be the single highest measurement of turbidity in ephelometric turbidity units (NTU). Water quality standards require that 95% of monthly samples must be below 0.3 NTU. So yeah, it’s OK… I guess. The water doesn’t contain too many particles that would give it a haziness.

Interestingly, my water quality report reminds us all that 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the largest waterborne disease outbreak in documented United States History. You may not have heard because the world wide web was born the same year. Over a span of two weeks in 1993, 400,000 people in Milwaukee, WI became ill with intestinal ailments. The outbreak was caused by Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease. I might not know anything about these pathogens, but the engineers at City of Chicago Water Management are looking my safety.

It’s nice to get the water quality updates, especially when the results are good. The number of residents who read and appreciate the information is probably a less encouraging statistic. So read your utility reports next time and let us know if you learn something interesting.

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