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Peter Kaminski shows the weak water pressure at Modern Estates Trailer Park in Dixmoor, one of the locations that lost access to water after a water main break in August 2022. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Peter Kaminski shows the weak water pressure at Modern Estates Trailer Park in Dixmoor, one of the locations that lost access to water after a water main break in August 2022.

Manuel Martinez

Residents of south suburban Dixmoor want a long-term fix to the village’s water problems

Dixmoor resident Al Messmer is fed up with the water supply in the south suburban village.

“If you take a shower, it burns your eyes because they put so much chlorine in it,” Messmer said. “It burns your eyes, it’s that bad.”

And that’s when the water is running.

Messmer has lived in Dixmoor’s Modern Estates Trailer Park for 14 years, enduring water woes for much of that time. The issue culminated in July, when he and his neighbors at Modern Estates lived under a boil water order for several days after a water main break.

Dixmoor is a majority Black suburb south of Chicago that has been experiencing a greater rate of water main breaks over the last year. An extended water break in October 2021 left residents of the entire village without running water for two weeks. The July 2022 water main break at Modern Estates was followed by one in August, which shut down three elementary schools on what would have been their first day back.

Residents, city and state leaders alike say a long-term solution to the problems is urgent, but the path to get there is unclear.

That’s because Dixmoor suffers from a trifold problem: It cannot afford to replace its aging infrastructure, its government lacks the financial records to pinpoint how much money is available and the tax base continues to dwindle in a village where 20% of people live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census.

Village President Fitzgerald Roberts said the infrastructure in Dixmoor is more than 100 years old.

Village President Fitzgerald Roberts said the age of Dixmoor's infrastructure contributes to the increased water main breaks.

Village President Fitzgerald Roberts said the age of Dixmoor’s infrastructure contributes to the increased water main breaks.

Manuel Martinez

“Pipes are corroding. When you get a certain amount of pressure in the lines, it finds the weakest point and they pop,” Roberts said.

Dixmoor lacks the financial resources to fix the problem on its own, in part because of disinvestment.

Illinois state Rep. Will Davis serves the 30th district, including Dixmoor. He said companies have not been flocking there. The village’s former main employer, power plant Wyman-Gordon, closed its Ingalls-Shepard Division in 1986. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. Around that time, the same company closed plants in neighboring Harvey.

The resulting hit to the tax base has been a problem for village leaders ever since.

“They are doing everything they can. Many of them are new, and they inherited these problems that they’re trying to figure out how to address,” Davis said.

Although Dixmoor’s tax base has shrunk, Roberts said the village has allocated money to the water issues, but he cannot name an exact dollar figure.

Dixmoor’s finances are also hard to follow. The village has not filed paperwork with the state comptroller in the past few years that would detail its finances. Roberts said his administration is back-completing audits the administration before his failed to complete. The audits have to be filed in order. So far, Roberts’s administration has caught up to 2017.

A resident of Modern Estates Trailer Park in Dixmoor collect water jugs to avoid using tap water in Dixmoor. The trailer park was one of the locations that lost access to water after a water main break in August 2022.

A resident of Modern Estates Trailer Park in Dixmoor collect water jugs to avoid using tap water in Dixmoor. The trailer park was one of the locations that lost access to water after a water main break in August 2022. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Manuel Martinez

Still, it is unknown how much money the village has spent to fix the issue or how much money remains available right now.

Roberts deferred to village economic development head John Thompson for exact numbers. However, WBEZ tried to reach Thompson via email and phone for two months. Thompson never responded.

In the meantime, Rep. Davis said he regularly reaches out to state agencies like the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to try to secure funding for Dixmoor and surrounding suburbs that experience similar problems.

Some band-aids are available. Earlier this spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it will spend $2 million constructing 3,600 feet of water line that will run under Interstate 57, including in Dixmoor. That project starts in spring next year.

But Davis said a long-term solution is key.

“If there is no long-term planning to address those needs over a long period of time, when it blows up, the large sums of money they sometimes need aren’t always available,” Davis said.

Adora Namigadde is a metro reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @adorakn.

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