CHICAGO — An internal equipment failure, and not a power outage caused by ComEd, was the cause for two shutdowns at a 110-year-old Far South Side water pumping station, the city’s outgoing watchdog said in a report issued Friday.
On May 6, residents of Beverly and Morgan Park were under a 24-hour boil water notice after the Roseland Pumping Station shut down. The pumping station at 347 West 104th Street shut down again on May 25.
The second outage did not lead to a boil order, but it caused local Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) to ask Inspector General Joe Ferguson for a full investigation into what continue to cause the loss of water pressure in the neighborhoods.
At the time, city officials pointed the finger at ComEd, saying the electricity provider’s equipment led to the outage. But ComEd officials, speaking at the same press conference, denied the accusation that power stopped flowing to the pumping station.
After an investigation, Ferguson’s office concluded the initial incident was “due to the failure of the [Department of Water Management’s] rental Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), an electrical component that sits between incoming utility power and certain critical equipment and supports the downstream equipment by keeping it appropriately energized.”
Ferguson’s report said the Department of Water Management needs to realign its priorities.
“The issues that occurred at the Roseland Pumping Station, resulting in a 24-hour water-boil order, were consequential and concerning of a magnitude that suggests a need for better alignment of [the Department of Water Management’s] actions and operations with its stated priorities. Community members have expressed concerns for years that their neighborhoods lack resources and that repairs to infrastructure tend to either go ignored or forgotten,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson in a press release issued with the report.
“In the immediate aftermath, all that disconcerted residents got was public, accusatory finger-pointing. We appreciate that there may be continuing grounds for differences of opinion regarding causation and responsibility, but hope that the information developed by our inquiry lends greater insight to officials working on the fixes and to the public they serve,” he said.
The Department of Water Management issued a response to Ferguson’s report, disagreeing with its conclusion and maintaining ComEd was to blame, saying the outages were caused by sags in power to the pumping station from a ComEd transformer that powers the station.
The component that Ferguson said failed was installed in 2018 and was scheduled for maintenance a month after the outages occurred, the report said. The second outage was due to a “failure of the same type of equipment.”
The original power unit was installed when the pumping station was converted from steam to electrical power in 1998. The original unit had a 20-year shelf life and was replaced by a rental unit in 2018 while the city worked to buy a permanent replacement, the report said.
That search took longer than expected and was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said. Because the batteries in in the rental UPS had a shorter shelf life, they had “likely degraded, possibly hastened due to high temperatures where they were housed in the facility,” according to a city contractor, the report said.
“Regardless of the disagreement between ComEd and DWM over whether there were voltage sags and, if so, from whose equipment those issues originated, it is clear that the primary reason that the May 6, 2021 incident resulted in a boil order was due to the failure of DWM’s rental UPS that had been in place since 2018 and, incidentally, was scheduled for maintenance the following month,” the report said.
The facility’s pumps and generators shut down, but there was no voltage loss from any of the utility’s four feeder lines into the pumping station. City officials said that all four lines into the pumping station experienced a voltage sag. That may have been the result of work being performed by — or a loss of power from — ComEd. During the investigation, ComEd maintained there was no voltage loss.
The Department of Water Management disagreed with Ferguson’s conclusion, saying a city contractor “determined it was impossible to tell if ComEd’s voltage sag” caused the damage to the piece of equipment that failed, or if the equipment was not functioning properly before the first outage.
The department said it “believes the [power unit] was functional because the unit was routinely checked during every shift.” The department said it has “made progress to put a new, permanent UPS in place,” at the pumping station.
The report was issued on Ferguson’s last day of office after first being appointed in 2009 by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. William Marback, a 21-year veteran of the Office of Inspector General, has been named as Ferguson’s interim replacement.
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