Plans to extend Evanston water reach accelerate

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Evanston’s long-time goal of selling more water to surrounding cities is gaining traction as suburbs are hit with the rising price of Chicago’s supply.

The cost of Chicago water has reached $3.81 per thousand gallons, compared with Evanston at $0.92 per thousand gallons. Chicago’s price has risen a minimum of 15 percent per year for the last five years, prompting cities like Morton Grove, Niles and Park Ridge to talk more seriously about switching to Evanston resources.

“There’s been more activity now than there’s ever been to try to get some conclusions and clarity to what we’re going to do,” Evanston city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Park Ridge officials have been asked to decide by July 1 whether they want to join Morton Grove and Niles in constructing a pipeline to deliver water from Evanston. The system would have to be ready before Morton Grove’s water contract with Chicago expires in 2018, project manager Bill Balling said.

“When you (plan the schedule for) the construction, the design, the financing, you really have to get the engineering authorized by the end of 2015,” he said.

But Park Ridge is still working to ensure lower water costs outweigh the investment in a $115 million pipeline, Park Ridge city manager Shawn Hamilton said. It’s unclear whether Park Ridge’s City Council will have enough information to make a decision in the next two months, he said.

Balling said he has projected dramatic savings for Park Ridge over the long-term life of the project, but the exact figure will be determined by the rate of Chicago water price increases, which the city said should drop to 2 to 5 percent per year after 2016.

Because Park Ridge is the farthest city from the potential Evanston water source, it would shoulder a larger amount of the construction costs, Balling said.

With all three cities participating, Park Ridge would provide approximately $47 million toward the project and was projected to save $113 million over 40 years. Niles and Morton Grove would save even more over the four-decade period.

“It almost makes sense to put in the capital expenditure and we can still save money in the long run,” Park Ridge public works director Wayne Zingsheim said.

Although it’s an option for only two cities to share the pipeline, the most cost-effective plan is for all three cities to establish a water commission and connect to the Evanston water treatment plant on the lakeshore.

However, Morton Grove is also considering purchasing water from Glenview instead of Evanston, Zingsheim said. If either of the cities backed out of the project, they would have to re-evaluate the cost for a system serving only two cities, he said.

“It might change the entire structure to the point where we wouldn’t go forward,” Zingsheim said.

If the three cities agree to the proposal, the Evanston water treatment plant — which can supply up to 108 million gallons per day of drinking water — would only have the capacity to supply for an additional small municipality, Bobkiewicz said. The city has been in talks with Lincolnwood since last summer to fill that role.

But the city is also considering the option of expanding the plant to serve a group of seven communities farther west that are looking to establish a new water commission, Bobkiewicz said.

In this case, a tunnel would be built to transfer water to those western cities as well as provide a second pipeline for the cities Evanston already serves.

The city presently provides water to Skokie and is contracted to keep serving Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling until 2035.

The current draw to Evanston is its stable water prices relative to Chicago. In 40 years Evanston’s price is expected to more than double to $1.99 per thousand gallons, which is still significantly lower than the current Chicago price, Balling said.

The rising price for Chicago water, which has increased 186 percent in the past 10 years, is due to major infrastructure improvements. For a water system as large as Chicago’s — which includes the largest water plant in the world — this sort of maintenance is justified, he said.

“That’s a good thing but it comes with a cost,” Balling added. “What makes our situation unique is that we have economic alternatives that other communities don’t have.”

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