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Wayne's Words: Lake Michigan water a long way off for Joliet

By Wayne Horne | 6/25/2020, 4:29 p.m.
Joliet’ Finance Committee last week received an update on funding the city’s Alternative Water Source Program, specifically the funding mechanisms ...

Joliet’s Finance Committee last week received an update on funding the city’s Alternative Water Source Program, specifically the funding mechanisms available to pay for the transition of Joliet’s drinking water source from the current deep aquifers to Lake Michigan water. The full City Council had a special meeting this week to hear a similar presentation of last week’s finance committee meeting.

Back in January, the City Council presented a proclamation to the Environmental Commission regarding the Joliet Alternative Water Source Program that stated in part, the Commission “exceeded expectations and provided for a thorough, unbiased and transparent study process for the benefit of all City of Joliet water customers and potential regional water partners.” Subsequently, the Environmental Commission was disbanded. The expertise acquired by the EC members after almost two years of meetings and research was no longer needed. All of the conclusions and research, including funding mechanisms, was published in a two-part report of hundreds of pages. Now the same educational process is being done with the City Council. The questions and review of funding mechanisms was completed by the EC and printed in the report issued by the city. Much of the material presented to the council is contained in already published reports.

The real question is not about today’s cost to build the infrastructure but who will control Joliet’s cost of water in the future?

Councilman Mike Turk said his perception was that most in Joliet were concerned with the cost of the project. While hard figures are not yet available for infrastructure costs, it has been estimated to cost between $800 million to $1 billion. The cost will be borne over 40 years or so and increase water bills 10 years from now by about $60 to $90 per month. But, in 10 years, there should be a sustainable, quality water source for the next 75 to 100 years.

The real question is not about today’s cost to build the infrastructure but who will control Joliet’s cost of water in the future? Seven months after deciding to use Lake Michigan as Joliet’s water source, hiring a lobbyist and a law firm to represent our interests, and retaining the same consultants and engineering firms used for the Environmental Commission, the City Council is still many months from a decision on how the water source is to be accessed and how it will be paid for.

By the way, most, if not all, of the current city council members will be gone by the time Lake Michigan becomes our source of drinking water in 10 years. Decisions of funding the actual route of any new pipeline may not be in the hands of some current council members. Let’s hope the current council considers the magnitude of their decisions on Joliet’s future.

One last thing…Next weekend will be the Fourth of July. It will be a three-day holiday that will probably be somewhat calmer than past years due to COVID-19. Most States, including Illinois, will be more open for celebration than has been possible the last three months. While many restrictions on businesses have been lifted, social distancing and wearing a mask covering are still in place and recommended.