MAHOMET — Jason Heid, Mahomet’s water and wastewater superintendent, likely won’t have many late nights driving, perhaps half asleep, to the village’s water and sewer facilities to check on a problem.
Most of the time, he can do that by simply opening a laptop computer.
In fact, there are seemingly as many computerized components in the water and wastewater plants as there are tanks, pipes, valves and other equipment traditionally associated with this portion of public works. It’s part of Mahomet keeping up with the times and keeping its public works facilities up to date and ready for any needed future expansion.
“I just feel that we do think ahead all the time,” Heid said. “You have to.”
He’s been around long enough to know: He started as superintendent for water and wastewater for the village in 1994. Then, water meters were read in person, and that information written down by hand. The department progressed to using a radio system and doing a walk by, taking two workers about a week to read all meters in the village.
Now, via a laptop and remote access, all meters can be read in 11/2 hours. Four people are on staff to serve the village of more than 8,400.
So Heid has seen a lot between the time he started and, for example, the 2014 completion of a $15 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant. That’s part of continued improvements to the systems for the village, he said — not just expanding, but maintaining what’s already in place.
“There was a lot of thought on infrastructure in place. I feel that we’re in very good shape as far as that goes,” Heid said. “A lot of my efforts on the sewer collection system has been not necessarily on future expansion for me, but it’s more or less taking care of what we have. We’ve done a lot of things over the years.”
Currently, the village can handle wastewater service for about 9,000 people, or an average of 900,000 gallons per day, as 100 gallons of use per person per day is a ballpark estimate, according to Heid.
As Mahomet grows, Heid said the systems he helps operate are ready. In 2005, the treatment plant was tripled in size and softening of the water, obtained from the Mahomet Aquifer, was added. There is land at the wastewater plant available for expansion. In 2015, a master plan for the village’s water service was completed.
“It was suggested that we’re essentially OK with our water supply and our treatment capacity until 2040 before we need to do an upgrade,” Heid said.
All part of the plan
Kelly Pfeifer, village of Mahomet community development director, said sanitary services, in particular, require a lot of planning. When the village approves things like subdivisions and the new roads to serve them, water and wastewater are part of the equation, of course.
Again, as with all of Mahomet’s growth, the comprehensive plan comes into play. It lays out a vision for land use and is tied to the village’s transportation and, yes, water system plan.
“It’s this document that we roll back to with every decision. Even down to the microcosm of one lot downtown,” Pfeifer said of the comp plan. “Land isn’t developable if it doesn’t have those utilities.”
The comprehensive plan, approved in 2016, talks about not just water service but management of rainfall runoff: “The village’s continued investment in stormwater management infrastructure and wastewater treatment facilities, combined with improved development practices, has minimized flooding issues throughout the community, particularly in the previously flood-prone areas of the Middletown area. The village, in conjunction with the Sangamon Valley Public Water District (SVPWD), has also continued to invest in its water treatment and distribution facilities and should have ample capacity to accommodate the community’s needs for generations to come.”
In objectives for community facilities, the plan states that the village should “continue to monitor the need for expansion of village services, such as water distribution and wastewater treatment.”
The document references estimates of water use demand below what Heid said is the village’s capacity now: “The 2015 Water Master Plan projects a 2020 average daily demand of 624,000 gallons/day and in year 2040 average daily demand of 871,000 gallons per day. The current wells and treatment facility are projected to be able to meet the year 2040 demand without any additional improvements to the water source or treatment facility.”
The vision of the comp plan also accounts for the many Mahomet-area homes served by the SVPWD, noting: “Much of Northeast of Mahomet to the east of Illinois Route 47 and north of I-74 is served by Sangamon Valley Public Water District (SVPWD). The Illinois EPA defines the boundaries. Should the village be unable to provide services north of I-74 in its service area at the time when services are desired for development, the village should entertain the option of exploring amending the service area boundary to allow SVPWD to extend its services.”
Continuing to improve infrastructure, including water and sewer service, in areas of the village designated for industrial use is part of the comp plan, too.
Beyond water services
The comp plan offers an overview of public works: “The Public Works Department oversees services and infrastructure related to transportation, water, wastewater and stormwater, fiber, and technology. Aside from regular maintenance, the village has invested in infrastructure in emerging development areas such as the Prairie View Road interchange and East Mahomet TIF district along the U.S. Route 150 corridor.”
Eric Crowley has been Mahomet’s transportation superintendent for about 17 years. That department’s work isn’t limited to just a few tasks.
“We do a lot of things. We do so many things that the list is about as long as my arm,” Crowley said. “Primarily, we take care of streets, storm sewers, alleys, sidewalks … pretty much all the infrastructure except for water and wastewater.”
The expanding size of the village is an obvious factor for the transportation department, but Crowley says he doesn’t change his method of operation.
“We’ll do things the same way we do — we’ll respond to everybody as best we can,” he said. “There’s always growth. Even in 2008-2009, when the recession hit, there was still growth. Obviously it slowed down a little bit. The big one in my tenure here was I believe ’03 and ’04. That’s when we got Thornewood, Deer Hollow, Cobble Creek, Country Ridge (subdivisions) ... that’s when we really started seeing a lot of growth. Others came in after that.”
Like Heid, Crowley tries to look beyond just current demands.
“When I know something’s coming, I really sit back, especially with the recent annexations, I look at it obviously from a maintenance standpoint all the way around, but the first thing I think about is snow removal,” he said. “We put a lot of thought into how we plow snow.”
Fall leaf and limb collection is a large undertaking for Crowley and his crew as well. The village is divided into five areas for leaf and limb collection, and in about 2009, the department started doing snow removal by section of town as well.
Even when anticipated, growth is a challenge.
“It’s been challenging from just volume of calls, volume of service requests,” Crowley said. “I try to respond as soon as I get a call, as soon as I get a message.”
Daily work for the department includes mowing about 50 acres a week, offering some help to the village Parks and Recreation Department for the grounds it uses. Workers do “windshield surveys” — they simply patrol town to identify areas that need attention, such as trash cans on Main Street that need emptied and more.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is, we have such a short window coming out of winter and then going into spring and then trying to get as much done as we can before we start our fall leaf collection — it’s a big deal,” Crowley said.
The department has five full-time workers and one part-time person; before fall, Crowley said, the village may hire another part-time or temporary person for leaf season and winter snow removal. When it comes to the latter, three of the water and sewer department workers assist, too, he noted.
“Staffing levels — we’re pretty good. We know just like everybody else knows that at some point down the road, we will have to add staff. When that’ll be, I don’t know. But we’re going to do the best we can with what we’ve got and try and take care of anybody’s issues.
“We get through it. We’re all one big happy family, and that’s what I love about Mahomet. I’ve lived here my whole life and it’s great,” Crowley said. “We have a really really good crew. We have a really good village, I mean, all of us all together. I love my guys. They’re hard-working and they’re on the same page as I am all the time. I’m trying to think three steps ahead and they’re trying to think one step ahead of me, which makes my life a lot easier when I’m in here doing administrative stuff.”
Maintenance remains key
Water and wastewater Superintendent Heid keeps his mind on not just the future but the past: days gone by when infrastructure put in place worked for the village — public works infrastructure that is now showing its age.
As water main breaks happen, Heid isn’t too surprised — many were installed in the 1940s and 1950s and are cast iron. But when they are fixed, the replacement tile or pipe upgrade is valuable to the entire system.
“Fixing water leaks — it’s expensive,” he said.
Heid keeps watch on the village’s water and wastewater infrastructure with an eye toward not just reacting to emergencies but preventing problems in the first place. He’s identified about 30,000 feet of water main that needs to be replaced, and when it is, it will be upgraded from 4 inches in diameter to at least 8 inches. That improves flow for fighting fires, he said as an example, and cuts back on unaccounted-for water leaks.
As the village grows, Heid says, the water and wastewater systems are in good shape for new development. Mahomet even won recognition as Water Operater of the Year in 2016, for example.
At least some village residents would agree that the water service is up to snuff. Dennis and Linda Kopp live south of the Mahomet Public Library, near Middletown Prairie Elementary School. They said the water is not as soft as they’d prefer, but in their eight years in Mahomet, they’ve had no complaints about service.
“(The hardness of the water is) not terrible. The taste is fine,” said Linda. She did say that ice makers can clog a little faster due to the water not being as soft as perhaps it could be. “Other than that I have no complaints with the water.”
Dennis noted, “You don’t have a chlorine taste or anything like that.”
For Heid’s part, every day in the water and sewer department for the village of Mahomet is about getting better.
“You’re always just trying to strive to improve things. We’ve really come a long way,” Heid said. “You just keep plodding away. You can’t Band-Aid anything. You’ve got to do it right.”