In our latest Community Close-Up, we look at Elgin. Like most cities, this suburb is faced with a variety of infrastructure needs and challenges. City officials say even one of their points of pride, the public water system, will need attention in the years to come.
Elgin gets its water from the Fox River. The city turned to this waterway 30 years ago when concerns were raised about the sustainability of deep well water.
The chief operator at the city’s Riverside Water Treatment plant is Stephen Page. He says while the river gives them a healthy supply of this precious commodity, they have to go to great lengths to ensure a high level of quality.
“It’s a little difficult at times because we do use the Fox River as a source. One good rainfall can change the qualities of the river dramatically” Page said.
Page says that’s why they have the facility staffed around the clock, with samples being pulled from the river each shift. These efforts have resulted in Elgin topping quality competitions in Kane County, and receiving recognition from the Illinois section of the American Water Works Association.
Residents like Judith McDonald can also testify about how good the water is here.
“Tap water is my main drink, so I drink it all the time. I’ve never been concerned about the quality of the water here in Elgin, at all” McDonald said.
The taste of tap water and healthy supply levels aren’t usually the first things that come to mind when talking about the selling points of a community. But Mayor Dave Kaptian says for this city of more than 100,000 people, it has served them well. He says it’s something that has been attractive to businesses.
“One of our major users is Hinckley and Schmidt. They actually take city of Elgin water and redistill it and it becomes Hinckley and Schmidt water. Businesses can’t operate when their city tells them ‘well, we may have to shut the water down’” Kaptain said.
The mayor says the abundance of quality water played a crucial role in the city’s revival in the 1980’s and 90’s. He says it also has kept them from having to enforce water restrictions, like many communities did during last year’s drought.
But Kaptain says they are becoming increasingly mindful of the need to encourage conservation.
“Conservation works all the time, and it’s best for the community to do that. It’s best for those people to invest in those practices. We want them to save money on their water bills, we want them to be frugal” Kaptain said.
Kapitan says less demand will also prolong the life of the equipment they use to pump the water from the river. He says they’re already facing upgrades for their sewer system. Officials say they also need to complete water infrastructure in developing parts of Elgin that was halted when the economy crashed several years ago.
Water treatment plant operator Stephen Page echoes the need for conservation. He says last year’s drought put a strain on his facility’s budget because his staff had to increase treatment efforts.
Page says even though they haven’t had to worry about a shrinking water source, preparing for that scenario is a good idea.
“I’m kind of an environmental guy, always have been. I really think it’s important for us to protect our water and preserve the supply” Page said.
Even if that means in the future asking residents and businesses to do their part by limiting usage.
Deep Roots in Water
The city of Elgin was founded in April 1836. It is located 35 miles northwest of Chicago and home to over 108,000 people.
"The City of Elgin began serving its residents as a community water supplier in the late 1880s. At that time, the Fox River was used as the source of drinking water. The fact that no treatment was performed on the raw water leads one to speculate that at that time the Fox River must have been a pristine source."
- text from the City of Elgin: History
About Community Close-Up
The WNIJ audience includes a wide geographic area in diverse communities with a wide range of challenges and opportunities. This occasional series will inform our audience -- both on air and online -- of activities, opportunities and events in individual communities to build common understanding among listeners of the government, business and social climate in northern Illinois.