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Buy Water or Build a Pipeline? Joliet Decides

After several years of research and pondering, the city council of Joliet, Ill. decided Jan. 28 to buy its water from the Chicago Department of Water Management, relying on a 100-year contract to keep water rate increases in check.

The alternative, building its own pipeline to Lake Michigan, an intake and an advanced treatment plant, would have cost up to $1.4 billion. Capital costs for the Chicago plan were expected to be from $592 million to $810 million.

Council members voted seven to one in favor of the buy option. Average monthly water bills by 2040 were projected to hit $142 with the Chicago option, and $149 with the build-a-pipeline option.

Eventually, costs for the build option were expected to drop below the Chicago deal as capital improvements were paid for, but that apparently didn’t make the initial billion-dollar price any easier to swallow. City officials have pledged to come up with programs to help low-income residents pay their higher water bills.

Failing aquifers that supply the city’s wells forced the city to decide one way or the other. By 2030, some of the city’s wells are expected to be dry.