Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chicago AM Saturday 14 April 2012 

Voice of the People, Chicago Tribune


Early in this year's summer-like March a Chicago Park District drinking fountain was already running just east of the Berwyn LSD underpass. Not only running, but continuously, as in the old days. This went on for over a week. Did district management finally decide the constantly running fountains did not waste much water after all? Soon reality returned: to get a drink from that fountain now you need to press a button.

Back on Sunday 22 June 2003 the Chicago Tribune published an article saying “Chicago's lakefront drinking fountains, which run 24 hours and use 1,400 gallons of water a day per fountain, are the first of the Park District's 1,000 fountains being fitted with new faucets as part of city efforts to conserve water.”

I've been studying these fountains probably since first being picked up by my father high enough to get a drink in Gresham's Foster park in 1937. I really got involved in the last two years before the article, when, over two full seasons, using a 1 pint container and a stop watch, I measured how much water they wasted. In over a hundred tests they consistently put out 1 pint every 20 seconds, 3 pints a minute, or 375 gallons a minute for all 1000 fountains.

Some perspective: a single Chicago fire hydrant running full blast puts out 1750 gallons/minute - 4 times what 1000 fountains do. Further, even the article's unsubstantiated 1400 gallons of water per day per fountain works out to only 972 gallons per minute for 1,000 fountains, slightly more than half what a single fire hydrant puts out.

Talking with a Chicago Fireman about this I questioned: ?"That means, a full blast hose from one hydrant will fill a 55 gallon drum in 2 seconds? Fireman: "Oh Yes!!!"

A Thursday 22 June 1995 Tribune article said: “Of the 47,000 hydrants across the city, officials say more than 3,000 have been opened by people seeking refuge from the heat during the recent string of 90-degree-plus days”
and further “... the Water Department took more than 2,500 complaints Wednesday, callers from some neighborhoods reported water pressure was so low bathtubs wouldn't fill, toilets wouldn't flush. The Fire Department was fearful that water pressure in some areas might not be sufficient to fight a fire.”

That same Tribune article also said: “The new fixtures... will cost about $300 per fountain, plus about $200 for parts and labor....” So we spent $500,000 dollars to reduce the city water usage by less than that of turning off a single fire hydrant?

On another occasion I asked an on-duty park district plumber if it was a big project to turn the 24/7 fountains on every spring and off every fall. “Big project? Hardly. We're out here working on all sorts of things. When we get thirsty, we look around for a fountain. If there's one not yet turned on, we turn it on and get a drink.”

So before the save water campaign, turning the fountains on and off seasonally was not even recorded time-wise. Now we need to send out highly paid (not that they don't earn it) union plumbers every spring to re-install, and every fall to de-install, 1000 faucets.

The $half million to buy the 1000 original valves is gone, But can't we have the plumbers just activate/deactivate the valves every spring and fall, and let the rest of us get a fine cold drink of pure clean Chicago water more conveniently than anyone else in the world?

Back to the 22 June 2003 article's reference to “city efforts to conserve water.” After the installation of the last of the 1000 new faucets, did the the manager of the water department rush in to tell the mayor: “Instead of each of our two water intakes pumping 500 million gallons a day, they are are now pumping only 499,300,000 gallons of water per day! Can I get a raise now?”

Arnold H Nelson

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