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Water bills could triple as Joliet replaces wells

Staff recommends choice between Lake Michigan and Illinois River

Joliet water bills could double and even triple in coming years as the city switches to a new source of water.

City staff for the first time on Wednesday put out numbers publicly on how much it will cost for Joliet to switch from the wells that now supply Joliet to water from Lake Michigan, the Illinois River or the Kankakee River.

Staff also recommended against the Kankakee River, saying the river’s flow rates are too low to accommodate future growth in Joliet.

Construction costs are as high as $1.1 billion if the city decides to build its own pipeline to Lake Michigan, although costs drop as low as $307 million using the Kankakee River, under one option presented to the City Council.

“This decision on a new water source is likely to be the most important decision the city makes, and most costly decision the city makes in this century,” Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher told the council.

Typical monthly water bills that now are about $30 are expected to increase to $72 under one plan to draw from the Illinois River, or $102 under another plan to pipe in water from Lake Michigan.

Swisher presented conclusions from a study that has been going on for more than a year as city staff, a consultant group and an environmental commission looked for options while facing forecasts that the city’s deep wells will become insufficient by 2030.

The next steps include the City Council making a decision by Jan. 7 on which course to take.

Costs won’t be the only factor, and both Swisher and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk pointed out that the exact costs are yet to be determined.

“I know we’re making estimates, but we really don’t know what the costs would be,” O’Dekirk said.

Swisher said the costs are estimated, but generally hold up in comparing one option with another.

“Lake Michigan is approximately a dollar more a day than a river option,” Swisher said, referring to what people would pay in water bills. “That’s something we have to consider. Is Lake Michigan water worth a dollar more a day?”

She said city officials also will need to take into account public perception of the water they will be drinking.

Although Swisher did not point to the Illinois River, there has been resistance to a proposal to draw from that river at the Dresden Pool. The location is near where the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers join to form the Illinois and is in the vicinity of the Dresden Generating Station nuclear plant.

The study team also is considering a pipeline to the Illinois River at the Marseilles Pool.

A pipeline to the Dresden Pool, however, also is estimated to have the least effect on water bills, although monthly bills would still go up by $42.

“There is no perfect alternative,” Swisher noted.

Swisher said perception also will be a factor if Joliet wants to become a regional supplier that would provide water to other Will County municipalities now relying on deep wells into the same aquifer as Joliet for their water.

Other factors playing into the decision, Swisher said, are water quality, long-term sustainability of the water source and city control of its water.

Staff members are recommending that the council consider two Lake Michigan options.

One is a 42-mile pipeline to Hammond, Indiana, where Joliet would build its own intake station to draw water from the lake and bring it to Joliet.

That project is estimated to cost between $910 million and $1.1 billion.

Joliet could also buy water from the city of Chicago, with construction costs ranging between $546 million and $651 million.

But Swisher said the city would likely see higher water supply costs in the future if it depends on Chicago for water. Chicago also would set future Joliet water rates, she said.

Although Swisher noted that there are more factors than cost involved in the final decision, one resident said the city should have outlined potential costs much earlier in the process.

“These are huge costs,” Damon Zdunich said. “I think if the costs would have been brought up earlier, a lot more people would have been here.”

The city will hold a public forum on the water report at 5 p.m. Dec. 5 at Cantigny Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 367.

Swisher said the city will send postcards to every resident in Joliet, urging them to come to the forum.

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