Niles moves forward in plan for Evanston water purchase

Julia Jacobs, Summer Editor

Evanston will begin negotiating a contract to sell water to Niles, Illinois, after the North Shore suburb voted to approve the next step in diverting its water purchase from the increasingly expensive Chicago supply.

The village trustees in Niles voted last week to start discussing details regarding the construction of a pipeline from Evanston’s water treatment plant through Niles and Morton Grove, Illinois, another suburb that is considering the project. Niles also approved a $33,000 contract with engineering firm Gewalt Hamilton Associates to oversee negotiations.

Niles has been considering alternatives to purchasing Chicago water for the past four or five years in order to lower the cost for the city and its residents, said Mary Anderson, director of Niles’ public services department. With a project involving Niles and Morton Grove jointly buying water from Evanston, Niles is projected to invest about $56 million in the project for savings of about $145 million over a 40-year period.

Niles is also interested in adding Park Ridge, Illinois, to the project, considering a pipeline connecting the three cities to the Evanston plant would be the most cost-effective option, Anderson said. If Park Ridge joins the project, Niles is projected to save nearly $50 million more over the same time period.

However, Park Ridge officials have yet to make a decision on their participation in the project, said Wayne Zingsheim, director of Park Ridge’s public works department. The city wants to ensure that the financial projections are accurate before committing to a projected $47 million capital expense, Zingsheim said.

“How can we decide if we’re going to do this or not without seeing the figures?” he said. “Everything is really up in the air at this point.”

Park Ridge officials were originally given a July 1 target date to make their decision but gave notice last week that they were not yet ready to move forward with the project, project manager Bill Balling said. Although Park Ridge is an important part of the project, it’s also feasible to build the pipeline without its involvement, Balling said.

“It’s a significant cost, and they’ve got to think it through,” he said. “We don’t want to be a pressure point, but we’re going to have to move this project ahead.”

Park Ridge’s city council will discuss the project at its July 13 meeting, Zingsheim said.

The cost of Chicago water has reached $3.81 per thousand gallons, having risen a minimum of 15 percent per year for the last five years. Evanston’s price is about $0.92 per thousand gallons. This spike in Chicago water prices — which Balling said is due to major infrastructure improvements over the past decade — has led municipalities such as Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge to seek the cheaper Evanston option.

Other suburbs continue to consider the option of purchasing water from Evanston, including Lincolnwood, Illinois, which seems to be waiting for other cities’ decisions before making its own, Evanston city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. A group of western suburbs also continues to discuss the option of forming its own water consortium to purchase from Evanston, a decision that could come toward the end of the summer at the earliest, he said.

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