The village of Forest Park uses an average of 1.5 million gallons of water per day. Depending on weather conditions, that number can spike to 2.5 million gallons a day, according to Rick Barger, head of the village’s water department.

Keeping track of how much water residents use is the task of the water meters installed in their homes.

In the early 2000s, Forest Park switched out residents’ water meters to a brand called Sensus. In the past, the village needed to send a meter reader to each household in the village to read the meter, but following the installation of the Sensus meters, staff could simply read the meters via a wireless radio transmission. The numbers are collected with a simple drive down the street to register the meter reading that then goes to the village to be recorded and sent out to residents in the form of a water bill.

Residents may have noticed a few lines on their most recent water bills requesting that they contact the village to schedule an appointment with the water department. The reason is that the Sensus meters the village installed are now losing battery power, making picking up signals impossible.

According to Barger, in the past, 20-40 meter batteries would be found to have failed as the department collected the numbers. Now, with the meters 14 years old, about 800 batteries are failing each time they are read.

“We can still read the meter, we just can’t do it wirelessly,” said Barger, adding that a dying or dead battery will have no effect on a resident’s calculated water use. The battery is only used to send the radio signal, not to calculate usage.

“No resident in the village has received anything but a normal water bill,” Barger said.

 Benefits of reducing water usage

A Forest Park resident who asked to remain anonymous owns a two-story, three-bedroom home in the village. In early 2015, he replaced the toilets in his bathrooms with low-flow models designed to use less water. He also replaced his washing machine with a high-efficiency model that conserves water.

However, by the end of the summer, he noticed his bill wasn’t going down — in fact it was going up. Additionally, he said he and his wife didn’t do any gardening that summer, as family obligations kept them from being able to keep up with their plants.

“Our bill was double even with the use of the high-efficiency washer and the low flow toilets,” he said, noting that he and his wife twice contacted the village and were told their water meter was working correctly. If a new meter was needed, he would need to pay the cost of replacement.

When he received his December water bill with a note asking him to contact the village regarding his meter, he wondered if the meter itself might be the problem. 

According to Barger, the village generally gets about 10 calls from residents about a high water bill each billing cycle.

“It’s almost never the meter,” Barger said. “Almost all of the time it’s a leak in the toilet.”

If a resident believes their meter reading is inaccurate or that their meter is defective, Barger said the water department will send staff to the resident’s home for an inspection. The village will test the water meter and the radio signal, as well as help the resident try to identify the source of a potential leak problem and show them how to read their meter.

The resident said when he contacted the village, no one offered to inspect his meter.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said that while there can be significant savings in the long run for residents who conserve water, homeowners might be surprised to see that the saving on each bill are not as large as they expect.

“That has to do with the relative low cost of water,” Gillian said.

Barger said a rough estimate was that 750 gallons of water costs residents about $7. Even if the homeowner is saving 1,000 gallons of water a month, that won’t make a significant dent in their bi-monthly bill.

Gillian and Barger both said that savings alone shouldn’t be the only factor of consideration when a homeowner looks to install low-flow toilets or water-conserving dishwashers.

“A lot of energy goes into pumping the water [via the village] … and that adds up to electricity [usage],” Gillian said. “Also the chemicals to treat the water.” Nonetheless, he added, “Conserving water is important; it’s a precious commodity.”

 Homeowners can schedule replacement visit

Just this week, the village started dropping fliers off at homes asking residents to schedule an appointment with the water department to get their battery replaced.

“We have to physically get to the meter [in the home] to change the battery,” Gillian said. “It really should only take 15-20 minutes.”

The village has steadily been replacing the batteries as they fail, but with so many meter batteries reaching the end of their life at once, the village is hoping to replace all the remaining batteries in the next few months.

In the meantime, if a homeowner’s battery has failed, the village will send them an estimated water bill. That way, the resident isn’t getting billed for three months usage all at once. When the battery is replaced and the meter is next read, the reading will go to the village and rates will be adjusted, Gillian said.

Water department staff members will carry village-issued photo identification, he said. The water department may attempt to stop by residents’ homes to see if they can make an immediate repair in the coming weeks.

However, if a resident is unsure if the person at their door is legitimate, they can contact the Forest Park Police Department for confirmation before they allow someone in their home. 

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