New Technique for Repairing Old Water Lines Could Save Neighborhood Trees

Water line repairs can be a costly mess. But what if there was a way to fix old water mains without tearing up streets and old trees? There actually is, and Chicago is dipping into the waters of this technology with a pilot program.

A technique called cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) is less invasive than traditional methods: a resin liner is inserted at the entrance of the pipe and pulled through to the end. CIPP means there’s no need to rip up roads and remove trees, and some local suburbs and cities have been doing it for years. But why hasn’t Chicago?

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We asked three people about CIPP who’ve been involved with Chicago’s decision to try out the new technology: Andrea Holthouse Putz is deputy commissioner of water supply for the Chicago Department of Water Management; Jonathan Ballew is the reporter whose been covering this story for the local news site Block Club Chicago; and Julie Wlock is a community activist and board member of the East Andersonville Residents Council. 

Chicago tested out this CIPP technique a few years ago, right? Why hasn’t the city continued using this technology?

Andrea Holthouse Putz: The Chicago Department of Water Management did look at lining water mains a few years ago, but based on the technology available at the time it wasn’t a particularly good fit for our infrastructure. We’re hoping, with advances in technology, that this new pilot will provide us with additional tools for our toolbox.  In the end, water quality is our highest priority.

Julie Wlach, you found out from Ald. Harry Osterman that the city planned to do water repair work in your Andersonville neighborhood and tear down trees. What was your response?

I attended public meetings with the Department of Water Management. They listened, but unfortunately didn’t hear us. They just didn’t see the trees as a priority. So I distributed a letter notifying neighbors about the trees in danger and another neighbor started a petition drive to save the trees.

Jonathan Ballew, how did you hear about this issue?

I cover Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park. I was getting plenty of e-mails from residents about the tree removals. Alderman Osterman, to his credit, was really transparent about what was going on. He held a tree walk with the Water Department and Forestry Department where they marked where every tree would be taken down. I remember how upset Julie Wlach was during the tree walk, telling the different city departments how important these trees were. I had a tip from someone who alerted me about the CIPP technology. I reached out to the mayor’s office and Department of Water Management about the technique but wasn’t getting much of a response from them. I then talked to water officials in Toronto, Rockford and other municipalities and found that they were happy with the less invasive CIPP technique.

Why is the city bringing in an outside consultant to run this pilot program?

Holthouse Putz: It’s not uncommon for us to bring in outside experts. We bring in the people that can help us do our projects. The consultant will make recommendations on best practice for us. The reason we’re piloting is to figure all of this out.

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