By David A. F. Sweet Since it was founded in 1861, the City of Lake Forest has welcomed thousands of loyal employees. But the Tiegs are one of only a few families that have seen three generations in a row work for the city. Assistant Chief Water Plant Operator Mike Tiegs represents the third generation of his family. His grandfather, Allen, worked for the City of Lake Forest for 37 years. He started in Sanitation, where on his route he met his future wife Mary Jane (her brother, Ed Burns, worked for the city for 36 years) before ending up in Streets. Mike recalled his grandfather often would wear his green City of Lake Forest shirt until he went to bed.
The Tiegs family - including three generations of City of Lake Forest workers -- gather decades ago. Allen’s son, Mike Tiegs, at age 18 also started in Sanitation before ending up in Streets, retiring in 2011 with 35 years of service. The most recent Mike joined the City of Lake Forest as a teenager as well, becoming a seasonal worker in Forestry before procuring a full-time opening in Water and Sewer two years later in 2008. “I wasn’t planning on applying, because I didn’t know anything about water and sewer,” said Mike, who was the youngest in the department at 20. “They said they could teach me.” After a few people at the water plant took buyouts in 2011, Tiegs moved there. He needed to quickly understand operations – plumbing, electrical, network connectivity and much more. Today, he needs to train new employees about operations in a rapidly changing industry. “My personal challenge is trying to help the newer Operators learn how all of these processes work,” he said. “Our processes keep changing because there is room for improvement. We have had to train four Operators in the last three years with another one on the way. They need to take what’s been taught to them and apply it to the new processes.” The plant draws raw water from Lake Michigan through buried 24- and 42-inch pipes that extend up to three quarters of a mile into the lake. That water is pushed through ultrafiltration membranes.
“I am motivated by the daily challenges that come with making amazing potable water,” says Mike Tiegs.
The city installed the state’s first cutting-edge ultrafiltration system at the plant in 2004. Nearly 900 five-and-a-half-foot-high canisters holding 14,000 fibers each filter between five million to ten million gallons of water per day during summer months and more than two million gallons per day in the winter. The finished water is then pumped throughout town via the finished water pumps located at the Water Plant and Booster Station. “I am motivated by the daily challenges that come with making amazing potable water,” Tiegs said. “Being able to provide water from the Great Lakes is an incredible privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Eight full-time employees need to manage the water. Each shift, water operators tour the plant, collect lab samples, check chemical levels and calibrate and maintain plant equipment. Tiegs can remote into the water treatment plant off of Lake Road at any hour if there are problems – an important ability, considering water is a 24/7 operation. “I love being part of a solution,” he said. “In between issues at the plant, I try to learn things to be prepared. I always tell the guys when things are running smoothly, ‘Try to learn something.’ There are guys who have been here 30+ years who have said, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ “Education and learning are paramount. We don’t want to settle – we want to keep pushing to make the best water we can.” Thanks to the continued work of the third generation, the Tiegs’ family is closing in on 90 years of service to the City of Lake Forest. Considering where he started 17 years ago, Tiegs is thankful for the city’s dedication to his career.
“The city’s been really good to me,” he said. “Even if I didn’t see my potential, they did.” Kim Piekos contributed to this article.