The City has known for a while that repairs are needed on the City’s main water reservoir, located beneath a Northwestern parking lot just south of the water treatment plant. The City has also known since at least 2010 that at least two of the eight clear-well water-storage units under the water-filters within the water plant itself need repairs.

The question has been how to proceed. The answer will wait as Council voted to hold the funding of a further consultant study – the third one on this problem.

The City commissioned a study with CTL in 2012. That study recommended the replacement of the roof of the main reservoir, which holds about five million gallons, within five years. Northwestern University commissioned its own study, the “Walker” study released in December 2013. That report, which has not been provided to City Council, reportedly recommended essentially the same thing: replacing the roof of the main reservoir.

The cost of replacement has been estimated to fall between $2.5 and $4 million, a cost to be absorbed by and paid for out of the water fund. The water fund comes from water bills paid by residents and wholesale customers.

Yet City officials – including the Mayor, the City Manager and the Director of Utilities – have been preparing City Council to ask residents to absorb the cost and inconvenience of a completely new reservoir. The campaign for the City to build and pay for a new reservoir – at an estimated cost of $26 million – has been going on at least since last August, when the City took aldermen and some residents on a Capital Improvements bus tour.

At her State of the City address earlier this month, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “There’s no debate about the water reservoir. We need a new one.” Mayor Tisdahl has said that she hopes to get state funding, and perhaps grant money, to cover at least a portion of the cost.

At the same time, local activist Junad Rizki has been taking every public-speaking opportunity available to him to argue that the City does not need a new reservoir and should instead follow the recommendation of not one, but two, consultant reports –  the CTL and Walker studies –  and repair the roof of the existing reservoir.

Mr. Rizki obtained a copy of the Walker Report though a Freedom of Information Act request. Water rates, which have already risen significantly over the past three years, would have to rise another 50 to 100% to cover the cost of a new reservoir, he has said.

The matter came before City Council at a very preliminary stage at the March 24 meeting, when City staff sought about $90,000 for a third study, a “Reservoir and Clear Well Planning Study,” to “determine the best combination of reservoir and clear well projects to meet the needs of Evanston, now and into the future.”

This study, if approved, would “determine the feasibility and life cycle costs’ of six alternatives presented to the consultant by City Staff. Those six, per the staff memo:

•Alternative 1– Repair the 1934 Reservoir and 1913 Clearwells, upgrading them to be able to use more of the finished water in the event of an emergency.

•Alternative 2–Replace the 1934 Reservoir in the existing footprint.

• Alternative 3 –Replace the 1934 Reservoir in a larger footprint.

• Alternative 4 – Construct a new clear well on the east side of Sheridan Road between Milburn Street and the existing Head House of the Water Treatment Plant. This alternative may require work on vacant property currently owned by the City, property which is adjacent to the single
family residence at 2437 Sheridan Road. At this very early point in time, it is impossible to know the extent and scope of this alternative.

• Alternative 5 –Construct a new reservoir at Leahy Park. This would include reconfiguring Leahy Park to provide similar facilities to the current park once the reservoir is completed.

• Alternative 6 – Rehabilitate the 1934 Reservoir roof slab in place.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st  Ward, short-circuited the debate before it began in earnest. “I am very interested and concerned about what Mr. Rizki said,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable about making a decision until I see [the Walker Report].” ”She voted to hold the new study and was immediately seconded by Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. Under Council rules, once two aldermen vote to hold an item it is automatically held.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “What we’re trying to do is make sure the Council has all the information possible” to make a decision. He promised to provide everyone on Council with a copy of the December Walker report.

Ald. Rainey, who voted for funding the study at Administration and Public Works, said, “One of the things that made me accept this expenditure is that the issue Mr. Rizki raised will be addressed by the study.” Whether the Council members will feel that the Walker Report sufficiently addresses Mr. Rizki’s remains to be seen.

The cost difference among the six alternatives appears to be vast. Further, Leahy Park, which Mr. Rizki says would be torn up and unusable for at least two years if a reservoir were to be put beneath it, appeared as a prospective site for the first time. Much thought and debate lies before Council and the community based upon all the information provided so far.

The good news is that the community will address these issues at the very early stages of the process. The City and the residents have Mr. Rizki to thank for that.