* From the Tribune’s latest investigative series…
Lake Michigan water rates have been surging throughout the Chicago region in recent years, squeezing low-income residents and leaving them with little, if any, recourse, a Tribune analysis shows.
In this tangled network that delivers water to the vast majority of the region’s residents, the Tribune found an upside-down world, one where people in the poorest communities pay more for a basic life necessity than those in the wealthiest.
And the financial pain falls disproportionately on majority-African-American communities, where residents’ median water bill is 20 percent higher for the same amount of water than residents pay in predominantly white communities, the Tribune’s examination revealed.
Consider Ford Heights, a cash-strapped, predominantly African-American suburb south of Chicago. People there pay nearly six times more for the same amount of water than residents of Highland Park, a wealthy, predominantly white town on the North Shore — and four times more than Chicago residents.
In the end, little is stopping local leaders from raising rates even more: Illinois regulators have no oversight authority over towns’ water rates. […]
Community leaders offer a variety of explanations for the high rates. Some acknowledge that residents are paying for significant amounts of water lost through cracked pipes and leaky hydrants. Others say they are imposing higher rates to pay exorbitant replacement costs of that infrastructure.
* Part 2…
Drop by drop, more than 25 billion gallons of water drawn from Lake Michigan was lost in the Chicago area last year, an analysis by the Chicago Tribune has found.
A sprawling network of crumbling underground pipes allows water to surreptitiously seep into the soil before customers even turn on the faucet. […]
Last year alone, northeast Illinois would have saved nearly $9.1 million if towns using Lake Michigan water had been held to the state’s water loss standard of 12 percent. […]
Towns with majority-black populations lost an average of 18 percent of their water, compared to the region’s overall rate of 10 percent. These towns pay some of the highest rates for water in the area. […]
The result has been a significant drop in overall water use by Illinois over the past 20 years — by nearly 30 percent, state officials say. And despite its losses, Illinois still fares better than many other states.
But improvements to unseen pipes and water mains have not materialized. In towns like Maywood, for example, water loss has remained stubbornly high.
WBEZ interviewed the reporters. Click here to listen.