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Local News

Joliet environmental commission backs $1B Lake Michigan water pipeline

Recommendation goes to Joliet City Council for final decision Jan. 7

The Environmental Commission on Tuesday voted to recommend that Joliet turn to Lake Michigan for water, a course that could cost $1 billion for a pipeline to Indiana, where the city also would run a water plant.

The commission voted for the Indiana Intake option as Plan A. It picked a secondary course using the city of Chicago as a supplier of Lake Michigan water as Plan B.

The panel, whose vote is advisory to the City Council, debated which route to Lake Michigan was better. But no commissioner argued for the river options that also had been under review for the past year.

“All the things we talked about tonight are the struggles with making the rivers work. Nothing has to be done with the lake,” Commissioner Wayne Horne said.

The commission discussed the challenges of assuring that Illinois River water would be clean enough and that Kankakee River water would be plentiful enough.

The vote was 6-2 for the Indiana Intake option, which was the most expensive plan among those under consideration but also should give Joliet more control of its own water and future rates.

“I think Joliet needs to take it on,” Commissioner Jim Riggs said, adding that the build-it-yourself option would pay off in the long run.

The city estimates that under the Indiana Intake plan the average monthly water bill, now just under $31, would increase to $98 by 2030 when Joliet plans to have the new system in place.

Using the city of Chicago as water supplier would lower that bill by $7 to $13, according to Joliet’s water study.

The two commissioners voting against the Indiana Intake plan – Mike Bily and Maria Rafac – favored the Chicago option.

Bily pointed to Chicago’s expertise as a supplier of Lake Michigan water to 5 million people and its ability as a large city to influence state and federal water policies.

“Joliet simply does not have the clout, resources or experience that the Chicago Department of Water Management has,” Bily said.

But Joliet could lower its costs if it becomes part of a Southland Water Agency, which wants to draw Lake Michigan water at Hammond, Indiana, and become a regional supplier. But the Southland group has not developed water facilities and is still under formation.

Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher said that Joliet can still consider joining the Southland group.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Jan. 7 on which option it prefers.

“The City Council is free to adopt our recommendation in whole or in part, or drop the recommendation altogether,” Chairman Gary Davidson said.

Davidson urged the commission to consider options based on quality of water, its availability for the future, and the city’s ability to have control. He suggested that questions of cost might be best left for the council.

The river options are less expensive, according to the city analysis, and the City Council could consider the Illinois or Kankakee rivers.

But there has not appeared to be any public support for Illinois River plans, which include a proposal to draw water at a location near the Dresden Generating Station nuclear plant. And the Joliet water study concluded that the Kankakee River could not meet city needs in future decades.

“The common consensus that I’ve heard has been Lake Michigan,” Commissioner Richard Rodriguez said.

The search for a new water source was launched two years ago in light of projections from the Illinois State Water Survey that wells now pumping groundwater for Joliet would no longer meet the city’s needs by 2030.

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