Water Leaks and City Calls For Service Initially Met With Silence – NBC Chicago

It started with a fast water leak in a North Side Chicago neighborhood and a slow response by the city that led NBC 5 Responds to look into three numbers residents rely on for help: 311.

Vita Dennis and her neighbors on Rosedale Avenue in the Edgewater neighborhood said that for months last year they were calling the city’s 311 service request system after a water line ruptured underground in front of their homes, sending water up and out any way it could.

“Running water is a nice, soothing sound,” Dennis told NBC 5, “but it’s not something you want to hear from a pipe that’s not supposed to be leaking.”

In this case, the pipe was a city water line breached by the roots of a large tree outside of their homes.

Dennis and her neighbors said as more time passed, the amount of water coming out grew larger and larger. What started as a little pooling by the tree became a “flowing river,” Dennis said.

And if the tree’s roots were weakening, the Edgewater neighbors feared the tree could be compromised.

“That continual flow of water is impacting the root system,” Dennis said. “And with a big storm or, you know, snow or something like that, the tree might come down and cause personal injury or property damage.”

Dennis and her neighbors said they started calling the city’s 311 service system about the leak last April, and online, the service requests were closed and labeled “completed,” despite the water still leaking outside.

Vita Dennis showing NBC 5 Responds the water leak on Rosedale Avenue last year.

Dennis started documenting the leak on her nightly walks by recording videos, and while she’s no expert, she concluded the amount of water leaking was in the hundreds of gallons each day, after using a stopwatch and an empty gallon jug to measure the flow.

Dennis said, “A gallon of water was leaking out every two minutes. So if you do the math on that, that’s like 30 gallons an hour and 720 gallons a day. So, A LOT of water.”

A lot of water, and a giant tree that, if weakened, would also hit home. Dennis said she and her neighbors were counting on the city’s 311 system to make things right.

When the city of Chicago unveiled its improved 311 Call Center years ago, it came with a new tracking system so callers can see precisely which city department is called and the progress made on their service request.

In the Edgewater case, 311 call records show since April 13, 2022, Vita and her neighbors called to report the leak at least 15 times, and online, more than half of those calls were “closed” just hours after they came in, despite the incomplete job.

Analyzing 311 call data for all calls regarding water leaks last year, NBC 5 found 51% of the calls were closed within 24 hours, and a majority of those were also marked as “completed.”

After sharing our findings with the city, a spokesperson for the Department of Water Management (DWM) told NBC 5 it sends investigators to inspect reports of water leaks usually within 24 hours and that the department marks duplicate calls on the same leak as “completed” in the 311 system.

In some cases, 311 calls are marked as completed, even though repair plans are still in the works behind the scenes, a spokesperson confirmed.

For all water leak calls, if an investigator determines there’s a leak, “The investigator then creates a repair ticket for us or refers the repair to another department if it is not DWM infrastructure that is leaking,” spokesperson Megan Vidis with Water Management told NBC 5.

In the case of the Edgewater leak, neighbors said their calls were closed, yet the case, and pipe, was clearly open.

After NBC 5 Responds contacted Water Management about the leak last October, the next day, crews with the city’s Bureau of Forestry, the city department tasked with tree removal, were on the scene, cutting down the tree on Rosedale Avenue.

Water Management crews then fixed the underlying leak.

City crews removed the tree above the leaking water line on Oct. 6, 2022.

Why did it take six months to complete the job, since the first 311 call was placed in April 2022?

The city said it did send out an inspector the day of the first 311 call back in April, and that inspector determined the tree needed to be cut down before water crews could access the leaking pipe.

Records from the city’s Bureau of Forestry show it did not receive a request to remove the tree until August, four months after the initial 311 Edgewater call, and six additional 311 calls regarding the leak later.

It took city crews an additional two months to evaluate and remove the tree, a spokesperson told NBC 5.

Wheels that the city said were in motion the whole time, but were unseen to the residents in Edgewater, who felt unheard.

“They should be listening to regular folks,” Dennis said.

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