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Local News

Joliet plans to decide on future water supply in December

Barge traffic flows along the Des Plaines River on Tuesday. A city commission has ruled out the Des Plaines as a future source for city water.
Barge traffic flows along the Des Plaines River on Tuesday. A city commission has ruled out the Des Plaines as a future source for city water.

Joliet plans to have a decision by the end of this year on where it should go next for city water.

The city is exploring water options amid a forecast that its wells will no longer be sufficient by 2030.

The city’s Environmental Commission, working with a consultant group to study the issue, has narrowed down future options to Lake Michigan, the Kankakee River or the Illinois River, Utilities Director Allison Swisher told the City Council on Monday.

Swisher called the development of a new water supply “one of the largest projects the city takes on” during a presentation on the study’s first phase and said, “2030 is when we need to have an alternative water source in line.”

The city study began with projections from research done in 2015 showing that Joliet would need a new source of water in 15 to 30 years.

Swisher said the Illinois State Water Survey research institute in recent months reexamined its modeling for the aquifer from which Joliet draws water and estimated the city would begin facing shortfalls by 2030.

The narrow timetable also necessitated ruling out further examination of the Des Plaines River as a potential supply of city water, Swisher said.

The Des Plaines is the nearest river, since it runs through Joliet. But it’s an “unknown water source,” Swisher said, because no municipality uses it for a water supply. The process to determine whether water from the river could be treated to make it usable would take about four years, which Swisher said is too long given the 2030 deadline.

Both the Kankakee and Illinois rivers are used by other communities for water supplies.

The Fox River also was considered, but the backup supply needed is too great, she said.

Even with the aquifer running low, Joliet plans to use groundwater as a backup supply to river water in times of drought or Lake Michigan water in times of service interruptions. The aquifer is expected to replenish as Joliet and other communities stop using it for their water supply.

Council member Larry Hug said the exploration of alternative water supplies is “headed toward the finish line.”

“We will most likely, come heck or high water, come to a decision by the end of this year,” Hug said.

The consultant group used by Joliet is headed by the firm Crawford, Murphy and Tilly. Swisher said she will ask the council to approve a contract with them for the study’s next phase.

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