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Water report leaves a lot left to consider by Jan. 7

Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher speaks to a joint meeting of the Joliet City Council and Environmental Commission on Wednesday while presenting an 18-month study of alternate water sources for Joliet. The city estimates that Joliet will run out of water by 2030 if another source is not found.
Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher speaks to a joint meeting of the Joliet City Council and Environmental Commission on Wednesday while presenting an 18-month study of alternate water sources for Joliet. The city estimates that Joliet will run out of water by 2030 if another source is not found.

After more than a year of research, there’s still a lot of work to do before the Joliet City Council makes an historic decision set for Jan. 7 on where the city will get water for decades to come.

The report delivered last week lists 14 options with construction costs ranging between $307 million and $1.1 billion to get water from Lake Michigan, the Illinois River or the Kankakee River.

And that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The estimates are made in 2020 dollars and could be higher by the time construction starts, Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher told the City Council last week while presenting the report.

“It’s important to note,” Swisher said, “this does not include the improvements that would be made to the city distribution system, which is significant.”

Not everyone is satisfied with the options still on the table.

The plan rules out one proposal made to the city from the Southland Water Agency, a fledgling group still being formed, to create a new source for Lake Michigan water from an intake in Hammond, Indiana.

But it does leave open the option of Joliet building its own 42-mile pipeline to Hammond, the most expensive construction project in the plan at a cost estimated at $910 million to $1.1 billion.

“It seems like the only option they’re giving us is Joliet doing it,” said John Hertko, a member of the Environmental Commission that is scheduled to make a recommendation on which option to take by its Dec. 10 meeting.

Hertko said he is not the only commission member unhappy that the Southland proposal and other options are not in the plan. Joining the Southland agency could reduce costs for Joliet, he said.

“If you’re looking for what’s best for the citizens of Joliet, if we’re trying to keep water rates down, then why isn’t everything on the table?” Hertko asked.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, however, said he agreed with Swisher’s explanation that the Southland group was not being considered because it does not yet have access to water.

“I’m not sure how viable that is right now,” O’Dekirk said of the Southland group.

Joliet’s other option could be going to the city of Chicago for Lake Michigan water.

The report presented last week outlined various costs for using the Kankakee River. But city staff is recommending against using the Kankakee because flow rates are believed to be insufficient to accommodate future Joliet growth.

O’Dekirk agrees with that assessment but is wary of the other river option, which is to take water from the Illinois River at the Dresden Pool. The Dresden Pool is located near the Dresden Generating Station nuclear plant and just west of the point where the Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers meet to form the Illinois River.

“I think there would be real issues trying to sell to people that even after it was cleaned the water was safe to drink,” O’Dekirk said. “I think if the council wants to go in that direction, we’d have to drill deep to make sure that’s safe water.”

Resident Damon Zdunich said the city should not rule out the Kankakee River, arguing that it could provide a low-cost option in combination with remaining use of city wells. Zdunich proposed the development of a city reservoir that would hold water for dry periods.

“You would never have a situation where the Kankakee River is going to run dry on you,” he told the council at the water meeting Wednesday.

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