NORTH LAWNDALE — Sections of the Central Park Pumping Station are being torn down to make way for a new, more environmentally friendly water pumping system to serve the western Chicagoland area.
As part of a $115 million rehab project, the century-old pumping station at 1015 S. Central Park Ave. is being converted from steam power to electrical power, reducing carbon emissions. The pumping station helps distribute water from Lake Michigan to homes and businesses in the city and beyond.
The station was built in 1899 adjacent to the railroad passing through Lawndale because it originally ran on coal-powered turbines. The station was eventually converted to use natural gas to generate the steam that powers the turbines to pump the water. While natural gas is much cleaner than coal, the steam-powered pumps still produce more emissions than necessary.
The slow process of removing the steam turbines, the aging water boilers, and other equipment began in 2018. But the station has to remain in service during the electrification process so that people don’t lose access to the water supply. Only a single turbine can be replaced at a time.
As the pumping equipment is modified and replaced inside the station, the building itself is being adapted to accommodate the new system. Construction workers recently took a wrecking ball to a wing of the station that was once used to store the coal that powered the pumps. A new building will be constructed there to house some of the new electrical equipment.
The new electric motors will have variable frequency drives that will make the station much more agile in adjusting to the fluctuating water demand in the city. Water demand can quickly change from hour to hour, based on how many people are taking a shower, or if there is a fire hydrant in use, or if many folks are watering their lawns on a hot summer day.
Water department officials say the greatest benefit to the electrification project will be the enhanced environmental sustainability of the station. The electric motors will mitigate an estimated 30,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually that pour out of the smokestack at the station.
Once the project is completed, it will also help the city save about $4 million a year in operating costs.
The water department plans to transition two other stations in the city to electrical power after the electrification of the Central Park Pumping Station.
Chicago’s 12 pumping stations provide water for about 42 percent of the population of the state of Illinois, according to water department officials.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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