William Howard Taft was the president.

Joseph Everett Padden was Evanston’s mayor.

And Fountain Square downtown had a real fountain.

The year was 1909, when some hard-working construction crews braved the waters of Lake Michigan to install a water intake main, buried under the lake bottom, and connected to Evanston’s Water Utility plant.

Now, that 114-year-old pipe is being replaced, in a project that will take more than a year to complete, even while working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (It had been five days a week, but moved to every day after Labor Day).

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime construction project,” says Paul Moyano, the city’s senior manager for the $51 million installation.

The original pipe was built in sections, some 42 inches in diameter, others 36 inches, and, Moyano says, “has exceeded its useful life.”

The city needs to take in 120 million gallons of water per day, which is then treated and sent to customers in Evanston and eight other suburbs, totaling half-a-million people.

The new intake main will be 60 inches in diameter, and Moyano says, “will give us the reliable capacity” that the water plant needs.

The city also has two other intake mains, from 1956 and 1975. Those two mains will, excuse the pun, “re-main” in place and in use.

You may have seen the work-in-progress for the new pipe, offshore north of Lincoln Street beach.

As many as three barges and five support vessels are involved.

At night, an excavator pulls out dirt and muck from under the water, and in daytime, installation, utilizing divers, takes place.

“There’s a lot of challenges digging in a lake,” Moyano says, about installing the water main into a trench under the lake bed.

Plus, there are potential challenges on the lake. Boaters are urged to stay away from the work vessels.

There’s also work to prepare for the new water intake pipe underway at the water plant on Lincoln Street. Credit: Jeff Hirsh

Federal and state low-interest loans are financing the project, with water customers paying back the loans as part of their water rates.

Darrell King, the city’s water production bureau chief, notes that the overwhelming majority of those customers do not live in Evanston.

Only 14% of the utility’s customer base is in Evanston, so Evanstonians will only owe 14% of the cost. The remainder comes from Skokie, Arlington Heights, and several other communities that are Evanston water customers.

“We can do projects like this,” King says, “because we have those contracts in place. There’s no big impact on the Evanston retail [water] rate.”

Work will continue ’round the clock (weather permitting) until the end of October, take the winter off due to ice and freezing temperatures, then pick back up next spring.

Completion is projected for late 2024, with long-term issues such as climate change and shifts in the lake level taken into account as part of the design.

“We’re very proud of the project,” King says.

“It took a lot of effort to get where we are now.”

The pipe being replaced “lasted well over 100 years,” says Moyano.

“We’re hoping to get a similar life out of this new one.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. This article highlights how Evanston’s public works are well managed, while the other article on bond indebtedness highlights how Evanston’s finances are less than well managed. In 1909, parts of our present-day Civic Center were already in existence when it was called the Visitation Academy. It was purchased by another order, renamed the Marywood Academy in 1915, and expanded. Evanston purchased it in 1975 for a civic center and this dinosaur is still with us today and for the foreseeable future. Take the hint from the 2023 replacement of the 1909 water intake and replace the Civic Center with a modern and efficient office building on the library parking lot on Chicago Avenue. A developer would love to redevelop the Marywood Academy building in exchange for building a new civic center in the downtown area, being near public transit, and helping Evanston’s businesses survive.

    1. Hello Dick,

      I’m sorry but I must disagree about replacing the Civic Center… In 2007 more than 80% of the voters approved a referendum demanding that the City “Save the Civic Center” … and to immediately repair and renovate the lovey brick building to continue to host the City government there on the beautiful nearly 8 acre park-like setting with 200 parking spaces for citizens to conduct their business and participate in civic affairs. Build a new one? That’s another $100 Mil. (under the current leadership)!

      After the Referendum, it appears that a policy of deferred maintenance and worse, what, in my opinion, continues to be a strategy to run the property down and eventually offer that beautiful parcel to (friendly) developers. In yesterday’s Tribune, an article presented another $100 Mil project to redesign and augment our lakefront… Where will all this money come from?

      Did you notice that the pipeline project has already ballooned $7 Mil? Do you know that Sheboygan, WI is currently building a 1000 foot longer pipeline (6500 feet of 60″ pipe) and an approx. $10 Mil new pump house in Lake Michigan all for $41 Mil?

      Yes, we need this pipeline to ensure adequate supply – but again, it seems that there was no advocacy to control costs on behalf of taxpayers (and all water customers). I feel strongly that the people who are making these decisions disregard the extraordinary costs of these projects as many of them are not even Evanston residents – who have no skin in the game, to save taxpayers money. Just consider the more than double cost of the Crown project and the bloated Animal Shelter to name a few… This is not sustainable. The community cannot afford to continue to add 100’s of Millions of dollars in debt – and strive to be affordable.

      Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

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