The City of Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM) is responsible for providing nearly 1 billion gallons of drinking water each day to almost half the State of Illinois. Within the city limits alone, the DWM services a population of 2.7 million residents. Like many other utilities in the country, Chicago is faced with the challenges posed by aging water infrastructure, including the presence of hundreds of thousands of lead service lines connecting water mains to homes throughout the City. As part of the DWM’s commitment to ensuring good water quality and educating its residents, the DWM has offered Chicago residents free water lead testing since the 1980s. Due to an exponential increase in requests for water lead testing after the widely-publicized water issues in Flint, MI in 2016, the DWM streamlined its free testing program and adopted the system that exists today. This 311 Lead Testing Program has received over 88,000 requests since 2016 and continues to offer Chicago residents one of the most comprehensive free water lead testing services in the country.
Administering a program of this size requires extensive technical development and support. Managing the collection, storage, availability, and security of data is a critical part of the success of the program. For Chicago’s 311 Lead Testing Program, an advanced data management software was adopted, and dashboard enabled digital solutions were deployed. These solutions are able to link large data sets from different sources and compile data for analysis and reporting purposes. Interactive dashboards are utilized to visualize data and switch from “big-picture” to micro program metrics in just a few clicks. Presenting program data and performance indicators to stakeholders including engineers, utility management, and elected officials is an effective way to help make real-time, data-driven decisions.