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Chicago to create program to offer relief from water bills that spiked due to underground leaks

Mayor Johnson proposes relief program for high water bills tied to underground leaks
Mayor Johnson proposes relief program for high water bills tied to underground leaks 00:49

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A key City Council committee on Monday backed Mayor Brandon Johnson's plan to offer help to homeowners and businesses who have seen their water bills spike due to underground leaks.

The Finance Committee passed the mayor's plan to create a two-year Water Leak Relief pilot program that would allow eligible homeowners and business owners to have their bills fixed and obtain refunds if they can show they were getting hosed by higher water bills due to leaks in underground service lines.

The program is open to owners of single-family homes, two-flats, three-flats, and businesses with water service lines one inch in size or smaller.

City Comptroller Chase Rehwinkle said some people in Chicago have had their water bills go from about $200 or $300 a month to as much as $10,000 a month due to underground leaks they couldn't possibly have known about.

It's a problem the CBS 2 Investigators have been reporting for years, and one alderman thanked CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards for exposing the issue.

"It's because of their reporting that I was made aware of this issue and that residents were facing that finally pushed the City Council to take action," Ald. Gilbert Villegas said.

To qualify for the Water Leak Relief program, anyone who has seen a mysterious spike in their water bill must have a city inspector check their water system for a leak. If a leak is found in the underground service line, they would then be able to have their water bill adjusted to the average amount of their bill before the leak.

For those who have already paid higher water bills due to a leak, they would be given the choice of either a refund or a credit to their account to cover future bills.

The pilot program will start on Jan. 1, 2025, and will end on Dec. 31, 2026, but could be extended if it proves successful. The program would cover water bills tied to underground leaks repaired on or after Jan. 1, 2023.

Rehwinkel said the program is estimated to cost $572,000 in administrative costs, and $2.35 million in lost revenue from bill adjustments – only a small fraction of the approximately $1.2 billion the city brings in every year from water bills.

Several aldermen urged the Johnson administration to consider expanding the program to cover bills affected by water leaks that were discovered before Jan. 1, 2023.

Rehwinkel said he's open to talking to aldermen about ways to expand the program.

The full City Council is expected to vote on final approval of the program on May 22.

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