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updated: 7/22/2011 6:07 PM

Tour underground world often taken for granted

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  • Bob McNamara, pump operator with the city of Arlington Heights, stands in knee-high stormwater almost 40 feet underground in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect. He is getting ready to clean any debris that might clog the pumps' impellers, which will cause a flow problem and a possible backup.

       Bob McNamara, pump operator with the city of Arlington Heights, stands in knee-high stormwater almost 40 feet underground in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect. He is getting ready to clean any debris that might clog the pumps' impellers, which will cause a flow problem and a possible backup.
    Photos by Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • McNamara has a dirty job, working almost 40 feet underground in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect.

       McNamara has a dirty job, working almost 40 feet underground in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Geoff Smith, pump operator for the city of Arlington Heights, calls up to his fellow workers while 50 feet underground at the Honeywell lift station for raw sewage. The pump station, which pushes the sewage along to its final destination, is located along Dundee Road.

      Geoff Smith, pump operator for the city of Arlington Heights, calls up to his fellow workers while 50 feet underground at the Honeywell lift station for raw sewage. The pump station, which pushes the sewage along to its final destination, is located along Dundee Road.

  • McNamara cleans up the pump pit in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect.

       McNamara cleans up the pump pit in the stormwater station located on the border of Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Smith cleans out a malfunctioning pump 50 feet underground at the Honeywell lift station for raw sewage, using his hand to remedy the problem area.

       Smith cleans out a malfunctioning pump 50 feet underground at the Honeywell lift station for raw sewage, using his hand to remedy the problem area.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Beneath the streets of Arlington Heights lies a world taken for granted by residents until the skies open up and their basements flood.

Like a crossword puzzle beneath your feet are more than 270 miles of cast iron and ductile pipes that carry potable water and sewage distribution separately to and from homes in Arlington Heights.

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Bob McNamara, pump operator for the city of Arlington Heights, dons a protective white suit with a safety harness to face the dark, damp underworld, also known as the Mount Prospect stormwater booster station.

Maintained by the Arlington Heights Public Works Department, the facility borders Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights, and deals mostly with stormwater runoff flowing from Arlington Heights.

Down some 40 feet underground, McNamara encounters remnants of trees, dish towels, dead animals and the occasional empty bottle of liquor floating in the earthy-smelling soup. His main job is to keep the pumps' impellers clear, using a flashlight and mirror to peer into the chocolate-colored water. The public has no idea what it takes to keep the system going, says McNamara.

"It is hard work to keep it all flowing," he says. "It is either here or in their basements."

• If there's a place in the suburbs you would like to see featured here, email us at btsphoto@dailyherald.com.

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