Water comes to Homewood and Flossmoor through a long system of pipes that starts in Lake Michigan. Homewood and Flossmoor each have extremely visible signs of their water distribution systems. Water towers act as unofficial symbols of their community, but also play an important role in maintaining pressure along their town’s systems. But much of the water distribution system is below ground and unseen.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a five-part series that takes a look at our water system from various angles. These stories originally appeared in the August 2016 print edition of the Chronicle.
Water comes to Homewood and Flossmoor through a long system of pipes that starts in Lake Michigan.
Chicago purifies the water and ships it south. Harvey acts as the official seller of water in our portion of the South Suburbs. Homewood buys the water from Harvey and, in turn sells it to Flossmoor.
Homewood and Flossmoor each have extremely visible signs of their water distribution systems. Water towers act as unofficial symbols of their community, but also play an important role in maintaining pressure along their town’s systems.
But much of the water distribution system is below ground and unseen. Flossmoor, half the size of Homewood, has 63 miles of water mains. Homewood has 110 miles of mains, 1,139 fire hydrants and pumps 2.5 million gallons of water through the system per day, which is nearly 1 billion gallons of water per year.
Both communities have pumping stations and public works facilities where the systems are constantly monitored. All homes and businesses have water meters that record usage for billing purposes.
Homewood’s pumping station is located at the public works center at 17755 Ashland Ave. Water from Homewood comes into Flossmoor at the pumping station at Sterling Avenue and Heather Road.
The computer system that now regulates Flossmoor’s water system was installed in 2010. Before that, pumps that control the flow of water were regulated manually.
Now the computer system shows how much water is coming into the village’s three pumping stations and the levels in the water towers and reservoirs. On a recent Monday afternoon, 1,000 gallons per minute were going through the Sterling pumping station.
Water towers, quite simply, provide the pressure that makes water move throughout a community’s pipe system. It’s a simple concept, but one requiring a certain level of water in the tanks at all times. To maintain the proper pressure, Flossmoor’s towers need to have at least 20 feet of water in the tank. Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke refers to “bounce” — the difference between the highest and lowest point where there is water in the tank. The bounce is generally about 30 feet, he said.
Water in the towers is gravity-fed, and pushed up into the tank by the force of the water as it goes through the Sterling Avenue pumping station.
Flossmoor’s oldest water tower, the Sterling Avenue facility, built in 1935, is to be replaced and demolished in the next two years.
The Sterling tower, with a capacity of 100,000 gallons, is much smaller than the village’s other two elevated tanks. The Western Avenue tower, on the east side of the Metra tracks, has a 400,000 gallon capacity. The Meinheit tank, in Flossmoor’s southwest corner, has a 500,000 gallon capacity. In addition, an underground reservoir, on the south end of the village at Vollmer Road near the Metra tracks, has a 3 million gallon capacity.
A proposal by the village’s consulting engineers, Baxter & Woodman, calls for a new water tower to be built near the Vollmer Reservoir.
Once the village board approves that proposal, plans for the new tank — as well as the demolition of the Sterling water tower — will move ahead.
Flossmoor has an upper pressure zone and lower pressure zone, determined primarily by elevations in the town. The dividing line generally follows Kedzie Avenue. Residential areas and large complexes, like H-F High School and the newly-opened Meijer superstore, are in the upper zone.
Water pressure is slightly higher in the upper zone.
Homewood has two ground storage reservoirs that hold 4 million gallons of water and three towers that hold 1 million gallons for a total of 5 million gallons available for use.
Homewood’s first water distribution system went into service in 1911 with the completion of nearly five miles of water lines.
Officials are not sure if any of that original system is still being used, but the village’s distribution infrastructure is a mix of old and new, according to Public Works Director John Schaefer.
Lines are used as long as they continue to function well. They are replaced on an as-needed basis, he said. When a section begins to experience problems too frequently, the pipes will be replaced.
Homewood has one main replacement project planned for this month, but details are still being worked out, Schaefer said. Work on main replacement generally is done with public works crews rather than outside contractors.
Eric Crump contributed information to this story.