Evanston toasts to 100 years of filtered water

In honor of Evanston’s 100 years of filtered water, the Department of Utilities invited neighbors to a July 26 open house at the Evanston Water Treatment Facility, 555 Lincoln St.

Folks asked questions of staff who were pleased to celebrate a 100-year anniversary or birthday with bagels, orange juice and naturally, blue bottles filled with Evanston water.

“It’s just to give some history,” said Dave Stoneback of Skokie and City of Evanston Utilities director, of the mornings’s purpose.

One hundred years ago, Evanston started filtering water. Pumping began circa 1874 amid concerns of fighting fires after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and several large fires in Evanston in 1872.

“Evanston had the forethought of putting in a filter plant and that actually helped Evanston to thrive because people moved into the community because of the quality of the water,” Stoneback said.

The event included a 9:30 a.m. presentation which featured Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. Folks could tour the facility, browse through artifact displays and connect with technology that pretty much still works today.

“We helped build part of the original water plant,” said Jay Bielanski, formerly of Oak Park and now of Chicago.

Bielanski works for the Chicago environmental engineering firm of Greeley and Hansen, which also honors its own 100-year anniversary.

“It’s cool to see a facility that’s been around a hundred years,” Bielanski said.

“I think (after 100 years) it’s amazing the plant is still basically the same plant,” said Roger Evans of Evanston, who works for the City of Evanston.

Evans’ colleague Matt Schwegel agreed that the basics still apply.

“It’s cool,” Schwegel said, of the water plant’s birthday.

State Senator Daniel Biss, D-9th, was in the audience.

“It’s amazing stuff,” Biss said, of local filtered water. “It’s the dominant asset of the region, it trumps everything else.”

The impact of clean water spoke to children too.

“I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what it takes for the water to get from Lake Michigan to your sink faucet,” said Katie Biggs, 17, an Evanston Township High School senior. “I think it’s just an important message because a lot of people, like, spend their entire lives and their entire careers cleaning water for people to drink and people take it for granted that we have such clean water that’s so fully accessible.”

Katie’s mother Lara Biggs is on staff at Evanston’s utilities department.

“Clean water is very important and I think people should learn how water gets cleaned,” said Katie’s sister Amanda Biggs and a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School fourth grader.

With more than 50 employees, the Evanston Water Utilities Department serves Evanston, Skokie, Arlington Heights, Palatine, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling, pumping 108 million gallons a day. Wilmette pumps 44 million gallons daily. Chicago serves 170 communities.

By law, the City of Evanston, the third largest water treatment facility in the state, has added fluoride to the water since 1947 to help prevent tooth decay.

“I’d like to tell you a little bit about my trip to Paris several years ago,” said Mayor Tisdahl, in her opening remarks. “I went to Paris and I toured the sewer system. In the sewer system, there’s a quote from Napoleon. He said to his staff, ‘I want to do something for the people of Paris, what should I do?’ And the staff said, ‘Give them water.’ So that is what he did.”

“Today, when governments are under attack and the idea of taxes and having government seems to be in question, the Evanston Water Department is the answer to all those people who question why we pay taxes,” she said. “This is the best example of what governments do.”

Tisdahl was presented with a circa 1913 brass plate which was part of the backwash system. The circular piece was offered by William L. Meinholz of AB&H, a company which also contributed to the expansion of the Evanston water plant.

“How did you know that’s what I’ve always wanted?” the mayor said to Meinholz, as audience members chuckled before clapping.

“It’s heavy, and I don’t have one.”

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