The Environmental Commission’s recommendation of a new water source was a year in the making, but was described as the first step in the process of replacing the deep wells on which Joliet now relies.
Besides the City Council having the final say on where Joliet turns for water, there’s still a lot of work to do, Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher said Tuesday before the commission made its recommendation.
“This is really just Step 1,” Swisher told the commission.
The vote itself implied that the city can still change course, including recommendations for both a Plan A and a Plan B in case things go wrong with the first choice.
The commission recommended that Joliet opt for developing its own Indiana Intake, pulling water from Lake Michigan according to a $1 billion plan that involves Joliet building a 42-mile pipeline to Hammond, Indiana.
Whether Hammond is the location still has to be determined.
Whether Joliet goes it alone or joins the Southland Water Agency, an organization still being formed to become a regional water supplier, also has to be determined.
Whether the city even sticks with that plan is not a sure thing.
The commission voted to recommend Lake Michigan water supplied by the city of Chicago as a secondary choice.
Commissioner Mike Bily voted against the Indiana Intake option, saying there were a lot of possibilities for things to go wrong.
“Now what do you do?” Bily asked. “You go back to Chicago with your hat in your hand and say, ‘About that water you wanted to sell us – let’s make a deal.’ ”
Bily said the time to “make a good deal with Chicago is 2020 – not 2023 or 2024.”
But Swisher said that Joliet would not stop negotiating a possible water deal with Chicago even if Indiana Intake is the final choice so as to be ready if the city has to go to Plan B.
Swisher outlined the many things that have to go right for the city to have a new water source ready by 2020, including:
• Lining up neighboring municipalities as partners if Joliet wants to become a regional water supplier;
• Acquiring land for the pipeline;
• And getting necessary regulatory permits, a process that commissioners said could get more complicated with Joliet crossing the Indiana state line to get water.