Watch CBS News

'My Water Use' system in Highland Park lets residents know about extra water use before bill comes

System in Highland Park lets residents know about extra water use before bill comes
System in Highland Park lets residents know about extra water use before bill comes 02:45

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (CBS) -- For years, the CBS 2 Investigators have been digging into bloated water bills in Chicago as part of our Getting Hosed series.

But what if there were a way to get a warning about using extra water – long before the bill comes? As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, just such a system is in place in Highland Park.

Residents said alerts about problems such as a broken sprinkler head, a running toilet, and even a massive pipe burst have saved them thousands. They say other cities should think about getting a similar system set up.

It was an email from the City of Highland Park that tipped off Annette Lidawer to a runny basement toilet.

"This toilet – it's a great bathroom to have down here, but it wasn't even running that loudly," said Highland Park resident Annette Lidawer.

Later, she was alerted to a broken sprinkler head.

"You don't know it," Lidawer said. "Just dripping water."

Lidawer is a member of the Highland Park City Council. But she admits she didn't know much about the "My Water Use" program until she got an alert as a resident and called up the city.

"It's somewhere on your property, so you need to find out what's going on - but your usage is too high," Lidawer said.

She ended up with a $1,200 bill, but in both cases, she was able to fix the problem in short order because she was alerted. The city even forgave part of her bill.

"And if you think that's a bad leak, you should hear about my brother," Lidawer said.

A tiny pipe caused a nightmare for Annette Lidawer's brother, Dan. He was out of town when he got his alert over Christmas.

His family checked on the house for him and discovered a nasty flood. A burst pipe poured 45,000 gallons of water into his living room over an 18-hour period.

"The house has been devastated, and it's going to take months to be fixed," Lidawer said, "and had he not gotten that notification, we have no idea how much worse it would have been.

We've heard similar stories from Chicago residents, but they don't find out about the problem until the bill comes.

"It could have been a lot worse," Lidawer said.

The City of Chicago's Department of Water Management has repeatedly told us they have the ability to notify customers in houses and two-flats if their water meter is running continuously — but the dozens of the Getting Hosed victims we've spoken to with metered accounts tell us they have never gotten such an alert.

Highland Park City Manager Ghida S. Neukirch explained that the City Council there approved the My Water Use program in 2018.

In Highland Park, sign-up is easy. You either opt in or out when your set up your account.

City Manager Ghida S. Neukirch says most residents opt in.

"It's wonderful to hear from residents that when it does notify them that there's a leak," Neukirch said.

Neukirch said the City of Highland Park has gotten just two complaints in the past five years. One of them coming from Miles Zaremski, who said the data concerning his usage was faulty.

"In my situation, it took over two months to disprove a false positive," he said.

The City of Highland Park stresses that the data are not transmitted in real time, and the reported usage is an average. And if it helps avert nightmares like the one Lidawer's brother suffered through, it's worth looking into.

Highland Park has about 30,000 residents. The tech for the My Water Use program comes with a cost, but it's not as high as you might think.

It cost about $37,000 to install the technology back in 2018, and the City of Highland Park pays a little over $13,000 every year for maintenance.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.