Naperville homeowners with lawns to care for may want to cross their fingers in hopes for summer weather that’s not too extreme.
Very dry conditions, such as those seen two years ago, could again put stress on the city-administered water supply. A very rainy summer, on the other hand, could bode poorly for the municipal utility’s income.
The water department is working with depleted fund balances after its cash reserves were freed up by the City Council two months ago through an interdepartmental loan agreement that could send up to $19 million to the city-owned electric utility, presently working $14 million in the red.
Officials decided this week to stay the course on existing restrictions governing lawn sprinkling, however, rather than ease them in an attempt to boost water sales. The rules allow people with even-numbered addresses to water lawns, gardens and other plantings, and fill swimming pools, on even-numbered days. Occupants of residences and businesses with odd-numbered addresses can do so on odd-numbered days. All sprinkling must be done between 6 and 10 a.m. or 6 and 10 p.m.
Other uses — watering with use of a hand-held hose or sprayer, filling swimming pools that hold less than 50 gallons, and watering by root feeders — are not restricted by date or time of day.
Councilman Bob Fieseler recently asked that officials consider eliminating the odd-even element of the policy, noting that the water department’s funding is precarious at the moment, and unpredictable weather can set revenue expectations awry.
But Jim Holzapfel, who directs the water utility, advised against opening up watering to everyone every day. He noted that one-third to half of the city’s water supply has to be kept in reserve for fighting fires if needed, and when the remainder begins to run below the required flow pressure of 20 pounds per square inch, residents must be put under a boil order.
In the hot and dry weeks between June and August 2012 there were days, Holzapfel said, when demand for city water ran seven times its normal levels. It’s a scenario he doesn’t want to see revisited, but weather is beyond anyone’s control.
“We’re the custodians of the city’s utility system, and by nature we take a conservative approach,” Holzapfel said.
If income from water use tapers off to a trickle, he said, there are steps that can be taken to prevent it from becoming a gush of red ink. A pending study of leaks in the pipelines, intended to locate and fix the source of water loss as a long term cost-saving measure, could be postponed, as could a planned $350,000 water tank repainting project, Holzapfel said. Also in the works, and eligible for rescheduling, is a pump station rehabilitation.
Holzapfel acknowledged that the reserve funds are not currently an available resource if water sales come up short, but expressed confidence that the measures now in place comprise the best approach to water use.
“I think our budget and our revenue streams are sufficient to balance,” he said. “If anything, we might have a little bit of excess over the year, and if we start to look like we’re going to go negative, we can take some actions, cut some things out of the budget that won’t affect services to the community, push some things off … We’ll make do.”
City Council members, faced with the options of hearing a first reading of the proposed rule revisions or simply accepting Holzapfel’s report and recommendations, took a pass on making changes.
“I don’t see a reason to change this, not with what’s at stake,” Councilman Paul Hinterlong said.
Fieseler admitted the issue was not a battle worth fighting, but said policies and the reasons underlying them should be re-examined now and then.
“It’s healthy to question some of the assumptions of the status quo,” he said.Tags: City Council, summer