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Local News

Water matters – A historic decision is ahead for Joliet

Public interest so far tepid as Joliet decides where to go for vital resource

A whirlpool forms as a series of valves sucks in water from the Des Plaines River on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Joliet, Ill.
A whirlpool forms as a series of valves sucks in water from the Des Plaines River on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Joliet, Ill.

Joliet resident Ben Komar called it “really scary” to think the city will decide by December where it will get water for decades to come.

“This is by far the most important, the most urgent issue the city is going to face in the next five, 10, 20 – I don’t know how many years,” Komar on Tuesday told the Environmental Commission, which has been charged with making a recommendation on the future water source.

By 2030, Joliet plans to change its source of city water, which has not been done since the city dug deep wells in 1907 to replace water from Hickory Creek with groundwater.

The aquifer that has been used for 112 years will no longer meet the city’s needs by 2030, according to forecasts. By that time, Joliet expects to get water from Lake Michigan, the Kankakee River or the Illinois River.

Which one is to be decided by December.

“I’m just shocked that we don’t have more participation from the residents of our city,” Komar said, referring to the small number of people attending the meeting of the Environmental Commission.

Komar, however, acknowledged that he was attending for the first time himself.

Despite the light attendance at the meeting, the push is on to get attention.

The commission, along with its other business, heard a recap of the public relations campaign to get the word out about the city’s water search.

Big on the agenda is Water Conservation Day at the July 21 Slammers game at DuPage Medical Group Field.

“We need our community to take action to reduce water waste, and this partnership with the Slammers to bring this message in a fun way is a grand slam,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said in a news release issued last week to promote the event.

Joliet is urging residents to conserve water for the sake of extending the usefulness of the aquifer.

Water Conservation Day includes water-saving giveaways, conservation pledge cards and raffle tickets.

“They’re giving away an award-winning dishwasher and other exciting things,” said Maria Rafac, chairman of the Environmental Commission’s Water Conservation Subcommittee.

Joliet Utilities Director Allison Swisher reported that the city has been to New Orleans North, Taste of Joliet and Race Fan Rally to sign up residents for email blasts on the latest updates in the city’s water quest.

Swisher also reported that an online water survey, which was promoted in the citywide water bill inserts, has generated 298 responses, a number that suggests the lack of civic involvement thus far.

“We’ve been trying to take the message to the people,” Swisher said, adding that Komar and other residents can do their part. “I’ve been trying to tell people if you can just spread the word by telling your neighbors, I think that will be the biggest help in terms of word of mouth.”

Some important meetings are coming up.

On Tuesday, the mayor meets with representatives from 15 area communities that the city considers “potential regional customers” if the city were to become a water supplier as well as a user.

Whether it will is part of what the Environmental Commission is studying. Part of the planning now underway is to determine whether Joliet and neighboring towns, some of which depend on the same aquifer, can combine their resources and reduce future water costs.

On July 30, the Environmental Commission and Joliet City Council will have a joint workshop meeting to review what progress has been made. Potential water suppliers for Joliet also will be at the workshop meeting, which is open to the public.

The Public Utilities Department posts extensive information about the water situation on the city website, Joliet.gov, including presentations made by consultants working with the Environmental Commission to determine the future source of city water.

On Tuesday, Joseph Johnson, an engineer with a consulting group assisting the city, made a presentation on factors that will go into the final costs of the future water project.

“It is more than just the cost of putting a piece of pipe in the ground or building a water treatment plant,” Johnson told the commission.

The presentation can be found on the city’s website.

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