The Billion-Dollar Question: What Should Joliet Do?

By Linda Gibson

Dollar symbols flowing from an open faucet. Digital illustration.

The city of Joliet, Ill. can no longer rely on depleted aquifers to supply enough water to its failing wells. It can spend $900,000,000 to $1.1 billion building its own pipeline to Lake Michigan at a site in Hammond, Ind., or it can buy water from a lakeshore city such as Chicago. Mayors of both cities traveled to Joliet to make personal pitches to the city council for a contract.

With its own pipeline, rates for residents are expected to go up from an average of $30.75 a month to almost $100 a month. However, the city’s analysis predicts this would be less expensive in the long run than buying water. Owning a pipeline to the lake would let Joliet set its own rates, and pump surplus water to sell.

As a customer, it would have some bargaining power, but would it have enough to convince residents after rate increases imposed by another city that they’re getting the best deal?

Design, routing, permitting and construction must begin quickly to meet a deadline of 2030, when at least four wells will be close to failing. The city council aims to make a decision in January 2021.

What would you decide?

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