June might not have been the best time for those in the water business this year.
In northeastern Illinois, the average rainfall for the month is 3.45 inches. Preliminary data from the National Weather Service indicates 7.81 inches came down this year at O’Hare International Airport, the official reporting site for the Chicago region, including the 2.6-inch downpour that came in the final hours of the month Monday night. If the figure holds, it will mean we’ve just seen the fifth most rainy June recorded here since 1871.
That might seem ominous for Naperville’s water department, which recently exhausted its cash reserves by making a loan to help the city-run electric utility remain afloat despite its $14 million budget deficit. But the head of the water department isn’t worrying yet.
Usage was down during the rain-filled month, but “not dramatically,” according to Jim Holzapfel, water/wastewater director.
“Our revenue projections are somewhat conservative and so far, revenues are OK to support the budgeted expenditures. No budget reductions are needed at this time,” he said in an email this week.
An analysis of water department records in recent years suggests that with deviations from average rainfall correlating to sales figures, income from water use last month will be relatively flaccid.
In 2012, when the region saw the fifth-driest June on record and 799.3 million gallons was pumped out in Naperville during the month, projected water sales for the budget year were exceeded by nearly 13 percent, drawing in $31.8 million for the year — which would up with the 13th most parched summer yet, seeing just 6.63 inches all season long.
A year later, when the pendulum swung the other way and the month’s 6.23 inches of precipitation made it the 17th most rainy June in 142 years, the city’s water customers used just 466.9 million gallons.
Water service income provides about two-thirds of the department’s revenue.
The City Council last month opted against loosening restrictions on water use, a proposal that came from Councilman Bob Fieseler as a way to protect water sales income after the council approved the interdepartmental loan to the cash-strapped electric division. Holzapfel encouraged the officials to continue enforcing current guidelines that enable residents of homes with even-numbered addresses to water lawns, gardens and other plantings, and fill swimming pools, on even-numbered days, and occupants at odd-numbered addresses to do so on odd-numbered dates.
In a May 23 council memo, Holzapfel said the drought two years ago “severely stressed the water distribution system” and cautioned against easing the restrictions. In a period of extraordinary demand, the undesired effects on the water system could include loss of water pressure, insufficient quantities of stored water for fighting fires, and low system pressure putting residents and businesses under a boil order, he said. The memo also briefly addressed the possible impact of too much rain on his department’s cash flow.
“If revenues fall short of budget predictions, staff favors adjusting (lowering) expenses to balance the budget,” he said.
Holzapfel told the council that any spending cuts he makes would involve aspects of the utility that generally remain out of its customers’ view.
“We can take some actions, cut some things out of the budget that won’t affect services to the community, push some things off,” he said.
Here are some totals from very dry and very wet years for June in the Chicago area over the past decade, and how many million gallons Naperville’s water customers used during those periods.
2009: 7.18 inches / 514
2013: 6.23 inches / 466.9
2010: 6.17 inches / 474.3
2005: 0.76 inches / 857.6
2012: 0.90 inches / 799.3
Sources: city of Naperville, National Weather Service