Lead levels in the Flint, Mich. water supply has been the center of national headlines, prompting a lawsuit against the city and holding elected officials accountable for the unreasonably high concentration of a hazardous contaminant.
In Highland Park and Highwood, officials view efforts to provide residents with access to safe drinking as a critical component in the tale of these two cities.
Ramesh Kanapareddy, director of public works for Highland Park, and Highwood City Manager Scott Coren said it’s important to know the people of Highland Park and Highwood are not at risk of Flint-like contamination.
A lot of discussion has since surfaced around the country after the Flint crisis regarding its use of lead pipes and the way officials administered water treatment processes after changing their water source. The wave of attention drawn has led many local municipalities to consider the overall safety of the tap water residents are drinking.
“They can rest assured that our treatment process and the lead corrosion which is in place meets the IEPA mandates and also provides safe drinking water for all,” Kanapareddy said.
Most homes in Highland Park utilize copper service lines, while those built prior to 1940 are more likely to use lead service lines. The idea of having copper pipes versus lead pipes, according to Kanapareddy, makes a difference when those in Highland Park administer water treatment programs because they are not as prone to leaching into a city’s water supply.
Highland Park, though, partially owns the lead service lines that are still in the city, and property owners partially own the pipes as well.
In response to the city’s effort to collect and send out lead and copper samples to labs for the IEPA to review in 2015, Kanapareddy said Highland Park meets all measures mandated.
“From the city’s perspective, we take care of the lead corrosion program as part of a treatment process,” he said. “Recently, you know we also switched to our membrane filtration plant. We used to have sand filtration plant and we switched to membrane filtration which also effectively removes any lead in terms of it coming into raw water.”
Kanapareddy said Highland Park exerts great effort to ensure quality of water in ways that could be deemed as going above and beyond the protocol.
“Whenever we put in a new water main, we take that service line all the way up to what they call the shut-off valve,” he said. “We replace that line which under the city’s responsibility, we replace that with the new copper line. From the shut-off valve to the home, that’s the homeowner’s responsibility.”
Both Highland Park and Highwood use Lake Michigan as their water supply, giving them access to the safest source available to them.
As for water treatment efforts specific to Highwood, Coren shared similar thoughts regarding the state of the city’s supply.
“Some places that use open rivers or well water have far more challenges with different contaminants in the water that they have to treat and monitor very closely,” he said. “With Lake Michigan water, we have a much easier time.”
Still, Coren said officials remain committed to making water quality a priority through a number of means, including regular testing of supplies and making updates to parts of the system.
“There may be some individual properties that use old wells,” he said. “We do have a water system that’s many years old, so obviously when see any types of services that aren’t compliant, we replace them. But we don’t see those very often.”
Last summer, the city of Highwood spent approximately $3 million to line new water mains along Highwood, North, and Pleasant Avenues.
“Anytime you have utilities that are over 50 years old, you want to look very closely at doing that,” he said. “You really want to coordinate road construction projects.”
He added that other signs officials look at when considering the idea of updating its system’s parts include times where an aging water main breaks. In the case of Highwood, this issue doesn’t stand as a problem at this time as it may to others.
In 2015, officials Highwood completed regular testing of IEPA mandated screenings including lead and copper testing; it passed all tests. The results of these examinations are summarized in the city’s newly released water quality report for 2016.
To learn more about water treatment efforts in Highland Park, visit cityhpil.com.
For more information on water treatment efforts in Highwood, visit cityofhighwood.com.