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Local News

Okon: What matters most in the water search?

Nick Gornick, plant operations superintendent for the city of Joliet, fills a vial of water from the Kankakee River on July 25, while sampling parts of the river.
Nick Gornick, plant operations superintendent for the city of Joliet, fills a vial of water from the Kankakee River on July 25, while sampling parts of the river.

Science is one thing. Perception is another. And then there is money.

As far as science goes, all the numbers and reports aren’t in yet in Joliet’s search for an alternative source of city water.

But opposition to river water appeared to be mounting when the Joliet City Council and Environmental Commission met Tuesday in a study session on the alternatives under review.

Those are the Kankakee River, Illinois River and Lake Michigan.

Whether river water begins to look more appealing when the city produces numbers on what each option would cost, along with reports on what’s in the water from all three sources, is another matter. But river water appears to have a perception problem.

One potential provider for Kankakee River water is Aqua Illinois, a private company that distributes the river water to a number of communities, including University Park, where a problem has developed.

Aqua Illinois treatment of the river water has reacted badly with lead pipes in University Park, thus creating a lead problem that has the company delivering bottled water to people’s homes until the issue is resolved.

“This has nothing to do with the water in the Kankakee River,” Jim Bilotta, business development director, told the City Council.

All water, including the well water now delivered to Joliet homes, is treated to ensure that it passes safely through lead pipes without absorbing the lead.

But it’s not fortuitous timing for the Aqua Illinois pitch to become the next water supplier in Joliet, and council member Jan Quillman declared her opposition saying, “I don’t want to put our citizens at risk with a company like that.”

Joliet would not have to rely on Aqua Illinois for Kankakee River water.

The city owns land in Wilmington acquired sometime in the 1990s when Joliet was considering a switch to Kankakee River water. Another entity named the Public Water Commission, of which Joliet is a member, has owned land along the Kankakee River for decades in preparation for a time when local communities may have to get off the wells they now use.

Meanwhile, Joliet also is looking at the Illinois River as a potential source, which may run into more opposition since the Des Plaines River runs into the Illinois.

John Hertko, a member of the Environmental Commission, has become an outspoken critic of even considering the Illinois River and regularly cites reports, studies and other information regarding pollutants in the Des Plaines River.

“I don’t think this is a good water source,” Hertko told the council last week.

The city’s own consulting team has been collecting data from the Illinois River and says samples collected so far have generated nothing that the EPA has found alarming.

Still, council member Don Dickinson, asked as he was leaving the meeting if he had already made up his mind against the Illinois River, replied, “How are we going to sell that?”

• Bob Okon is a longtime Herald-News reporter. He can be reached at 815-280-4121 or bokon@shawmedia.com.

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