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Chicago pitches water proposals to city

A delegation from Chicago, including its deputy mayor, made a pitch Tuesday to become the future water supplier to Joliet.

Chicago is changing the way it does business, from a former “take it or leave it” approach, to become collaborative partners with the 125 communities to which it supplies water from Lake Michigan, Deputy Mayor Anne Sheahan told the Joliet Environmental Commission.

“This is an invitation to Joliet to get in on the ground floor on a change in the way we deliver water,” Sheahan said.

Chicago is proposing two options, both open to negotiation, to get water to Joliet.

Chicago could build a pipeline system estimated to cost between $430 million and $520 million to Joliet and retain ownership and responsibility for the system. Joliet would pay up to $5.75 per 1,000 gallons of water, which would include payments to offset costs of construction and future maintenance.

Joliet could also build its own pipeline system to the Southwest Pumping Station at 84th Street and Kedvale Avenue, where Chicago would provide water at its base rate of $3.98 per $1,000 gallons. Joliet would own and maintain the pipeline system.

Joliet uses about 19 million gallons of water a day.

Sheahan was joined by four other Chicago officials, including the city’s chief financial officer, in the presentation.

They repeatedly made a point that Chicago under Mayor Lori Lightfoot plans to be more transparent than it has in the past in working with communities to which it supplies water.

“The historical conversation hasn’t been as wholesome as it should have been,” Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said.

Chicago is working on a regional water rate study and intends to have a “predictable rate structure going forward,” Bennett said.

The study is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, which is also the target Joliet has set for selecting a new water source to replace city wells that are forecast to no longer meet the city’s needs by 2029.

The Environmental Commission is reviewing Lake Michigan, the Kankakee River and the Illinois River as options. Chicago is one of three suppliers Joliet is considering for Lake Michigan water. Joliet also is weighing the option of building its own pipeline to Lake Michigan.

Potential costs are expected to be presented at a Nov. 13 joint meeting of the Environmental Commission and City Council. That would be followed by a public forum on the water issue Dec. 5, before the Environmental Commission decides on a recommendation at its Dec. 10 meeting.

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