Wayne's Words: Only one choice for city water source

Wayne Horne | 11/21/2019, 6 a.m.
Approximately 18 Months have elapsed since the City of Joliet engaged in a study to determine a sustainable, high quality ...

Approximately 18 Months have elapsed since the City of Joliet engaged in a study to determine a sustainable, high quality and cost-effective water supply for the City. The Environmental and Refuse Commission has been charged with the task. There are eight members of the Commission and I am one of them. I have learned a substantial amount of information about water quality and sustainability, but I am not an expert on the subject. All members of the Commission are unpaid volunteers.

The expertise supplied to the Commission came from Joliet’s Utility Department and a consultant organization with proficiency in this type of study. The Commission’s conclusions are contained in two reports. Phase I is a 273-page Alternative Water Source Study and Phase II is a 622-page Final Report. The Commission will vote on its choice at a meeting on December 10 in the City Council chambers. The Joliet City Council will decide on the new source of water based on the Commission’s conclusions at a City Council meeting in January. From that point, the City will embark on an infrastructure plan that will take approximately 10 Years before a turn of the faucet will bring a new water source to Joliet. At least that’s the plan.

As mentioned above I am far from an expert on this subject. It is doubtful any of the members on the Commission have become experts through the course of this process. However, it has always been my understanding that the primary responsibility as a Commission member was to recommend a solution for the three specific challenges mentioned above: sustainability, quality and cost.

I am ready to share that decision today and the reasons for my conclusion. Lake Michigan is my choice for both sustainability and quality. More than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water is contained in the Great Lakes. Approximately 81 percent of the municipalities in the Chicago region use Lake Michigan as a water source. The quality has been referred to as “the gold standard.” Few people would disagree. That does not mean the lake is a solution without challenges, but our other choices seem far more questionable. For instance, the Kankakee River has a flow rate that could possibly hinder future growth in Joliet which has been projected to increase in population to an excess of 200,000 residents along with economic growth. Like all rivers it is susceptible to agricultural and industrial pollution that require costly cleansing to maintain quality.

Another solution put forward is the Illinois River. The same concern and challenges are present as the Kankakee River with the added concern of nuclear waste from the nearby Dresden power plant. I don’t know about you but even with assurances from several sources, it’s a risk I want to avoid. Remember the water source choice is for the next 75 years. Lake Michigan may have quality issues in the future also, but keep in mind that any such challenges with Lake Michigan water quality will be shared by many other communities allowing for a multitude of resources. The use of river water may limit our ability to meet future quality issues.

One of the biggest challenges in choosing Lake Michigan may be the initial cost. There are only two choices presently being considered for the Lake. One is buying water directly from the City of Chicago. It will cost close to $500 million for the infrastructure improvements necessary according to the presentation made in October by the City of Chicago, although we will own that part of the project and be responsible for its maintenance. However, Chicago will control the cost of the water. That may not be a deterrent over the next decade or two but what about 40-50 years from now when many more areas will be looking for water resources? What happens if Chicago sells or leases its water utility? It may not be on the table today but who knows what will be necessary to pay for the monstrous budget deficit and the huge pension debt Chicago faces.

The option of bringing water from the Lake through Indiana via Hammond, providing the details can be worked out, would provide Joliet with the control and access as a regional water source for other communities in the future. In the long term this will prove to be the most cost-effective solution. This solution can be made more affordable by pursing partnerships that would cede minimal control of water access and cost. The availability of grants and low-cost lows amortized over 40-50 years also bring down the cost. The next five years should be a sufficient amount of time to negotiate and plan infrastructure needs and costs.

There it is. My solution for Joliet’s new water resource. As with most decisions it’s not set in stone. If someone can provide me with information that would alter my vote, I’m willing to listen. Yes, it is an expensive solution but any of the solutions that have been established are vastly more expensive that what we are currently doing. Remember the current water resource is said to be unsustainable by 2030. A decision cannot be made on cost alone. When you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet 20 years from now, you want it to work 24/7, right?

Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne at wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com