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Thirsty towns have another potential lake water supplier

The Lake Forest City Council approved first reading new water fee thwould increase fixed-rate costs across-the-board generate an estimated $320000

The Lake Forest City Council approved first reading of a new water fee that would increase fixed-rate costs across-the-board and generate an estimated $320,000 in revenue for the city. | FILE PHOTO

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Updated: November 23, 2011 12:17AM

WAUKEGAN — As communities in the north and west ends of the county look to bring Lake Michigan water to their taps, Waukegan officials are moving to position the city’s water plant as a prospective vendor.

“That’s potential revenue that a casino could not touch, and it’s recession-proof,” 3rd Ward Ald. Gregory Moisio said about the possibility of selling treated water to members of the new North-West Lake County Lake Michigan Water Planning Group.

“There (are) communities out there that need water, and Waukegan is open for business with water,” Moisio added. “We talk about generating revenue — if we can get this done, if we can keep on point with this and let the professionals do it, we won’t be up here bickering about (other) fees.”

Moisio joined aldermen this week in voting unanimously to authorize two different contracts with Chicago-based companies that will explore the feasibility of Waukegan providing water to communities in the planning group, which include Antioch, Fox Lake, Lake Villa, Lake Zurich, Lindenhurst, Long Grove, Volo, Wauconda and unincorporated areas of Fox Lake Hills and Grandwood Park.

One deal will pay $75,000 to Public Financial Management Inc., which will be charged with developing a water-service expansion business plan. The second contract will pay MWH Americas, Inc. $45,000 for a water-supply expansion engineering study.

According to Noelle Kischer-Lepper, the city’s director of policy and projects, the companies will provide such things as a marketing analysis, a distribution and sales strategy, and recommendations on whether or not Waukegan’s Sea Horse Drive facility would need to be expanded to deliver extra water.

“We have excess capacity — more than we need in the future,” Kischer-Lepper said. “We don’t have capacity to add all of them as customers, but they’re interested in water, and we have water.”

According to information posted by the city, the current filtering capacity at the treatment plant is 18 million gallons per day, which can be boosted to 24 million gallons for a short term if needed. The plant’s intake drums, which sit 6,900 feet from the shore, have a daily capacity of 52 million gallons.

Asked if city officials have a revenue estimate in mind, Kischer-Lepper said: “I couldn’t even guess what the potential is .... We hope that we get something out of the plan, but we don’t know how many individual customers there might be.”

Currently, the Waukegan plant provides treated water to not only residences and businesses within its corporate limits, but also to Beach Park and Park City. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, Beach Park paid $497,909 for the service, and Park City $569,587.

Waukegan is not the only suitor for the communities in the new planning group, which was approved for Lake Michigan water allocation by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in January. At that time, the Lake County Public Water District in Zion was one reported possibility for a vendor, and Lindenhurst officials approved a study of engineering costs earlier this month with the Central Lake County Joint Water Action Agency in Lake Bluff.

Kischer-Lepper said Waukegan should have its study results in hand within 90 days. She added that “very informal” conversations have already taken place with different communities in the planning group about the concept of adding them to Waukegan’s system.

“We’re a potential supplier for them, and they’re potential customers,” said Kischer-Lepper, adding that one advantage Waukegan might have as the process moves forward is that “our pricing is significantly better than the rates charged in a lot of communities.”

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