Chicago wins $30 million-a-year competition for right to sell Lake Michigan water to Joliet

The Joliet City Council’s 7-to-1 vote Thursday night followed a personal pitch from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and now-former Water Commissioner Randy Conner.

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A person fills a glass with tap water.

Joliet City Council voted Thursday to buy Lake Michigan water from the city of Chicago.

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Chicago won a head-to-head competition with Hammond for the right to sell Lake Michigan water to Joliet, a deal that could ultimately flush Chicago’s water system with $30 million annually.

The Joliet City Council voted 7 to 1 Thursday night, ending a competition that included a personal pitch from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and now-former Water Commissioner Randy Conner.

Joliet will build a 31-mile pipeline and bankroll other pumping station infrastructure improvements costing between $592 million and $810 million.

The goal is to complete the work by 2030 and start serving Joliet residents and as many as 11 neighboring towns it hopes will agree to be part of a regional water system.

The average water bill in Joliet is expected to nearly triple from $31 monthly to $88 monthly over the next decade, primarily to bankroll the massive project needed to deliver Lake Michigan water to Joliet.

The Joliet Herald-News reported this week the Hammond option would have required $1 billion in water delivery system improvements and resulted in even higher water rates for Joliet customers.

The victory over Hammond represents some good financial news for Chicago, even if the $30 million in annual revenue can be used only for Chicago’s water system and will take a while to realize.

“We are very excited to enter into our new water alliance with Joliet and begin our work together to deliver clean, safe, high-quality drinking water to all our residents and businesses,” Lightfoot tweeted after the vote.

“Access to clean, affordable water is essential to our region’s strength, and I want to extend my special thanks to Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and the entire Joliet City Council for their collaboration throughout this important and transformative process.”

In a news release, O’Dekirk said Joliet’s water supply would “no longer be sustainable by 2030.”

“This decision gives the citizens of Joliet all the knowledge and resources of a system that purifies and distributes over 1 billion gallons of water each day to over 5.3 million residents in northeast Illinois,” O’Dekirk said.

“We are excited to be a leader in the development of a long-term water supply for ourselves and the region. Our future and the future of all who live here will be better because of the decisions we made today.”

Chicago has the No. 1 and No. 8 largest water treatment plants in the world. The city already provides water to over 5 million customers and 120 communities in Northeast Illinois.

Last month, Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett told the City Council’s Finance Committee that the “choice to buy water from Chicago” was “not just about treated water. It’s about institution and expertise.”

“Chicago provides some of the best water quality in the world. … Chicago also takes very seriously protecting Lake Michigan as a water source,” Bennett said.

Bennett said Joliet plans for two potential scenarios for water demand: 30 million gallons a day for Joliet residents and businesses alone or a daily demand of 60 million gallons daily if a regional system is created to serve several well-water communities around Joliet.

The system needed to deliver Lake Michigan water to Joliet will require additional infrastructure at the Southwest Pumping Station and at Durkin Park in addition to the 31-mile pipeline to Joliet.

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