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City Council approved funding of a reservoir and clearwell planning study Tuesday night, April 8. The study will aggregate the two or three similar studies that have preceded it while it analyzes options for the repair or replacement of the City’s existing water tank and “clearwell” water-storage facilities.
The new study has been the subject of much debate, largely initiated by local resident Junad Rizki who continually criticizes the proposal to replace rather than repair the existing water tank. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she was “highly offended” by his remarks and asked City staff to investigate.
The new study will cost approximately $86,000 and study a number of options for how to approach the current water tank, which is located on Northwestern property. One option to be studied is the replacement of the roof only. The roof of the tank is a Northwestern parking lot at present, and it is crumbling such that there is no dispute as to a needed repair.
Other options would be far more expensive and include relocating the main water storage to Leahy Park in northwest Evanston. Even if a reservoir is added at some other location, Dave Stoneback, the City’s director of utilities, said the Northwestern tank would likely remain. “I believe the Evanston Water Department will always have a water tank on Northwestern property,” he said.
Several members of Council have said that the new study should answer questions, including those presented by Mr. Rizki, surrounding the future of the water department. “Part of this will be aggregating all the previous studies,” which has not been done yet,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, speaking at the March 31 meeting.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, agreed, saying on a number of occasions that she supports the new study in part because it will address all the concerns raised by Mr. Rizki.
In the background of water-reservoir discussions is the City’s ongoing effort to sell water to additional communities. Evanston currently provides water to Skokie under a contract that expires in February 2017, as well as to the Northwest Water Commission under a contract expiring in 2035. The Skokie contract has come under much criticism for being unfair to Evanston. The NWC contract sets rates according to a formula established by the American Water Works Association’s wholesale water rate rules.
Waiting in the wings are the communities of Niles, Park Ridge, Morton Grove and Lincolnwood. According to a presentation made my Mr. Stoneback at the March 31 meeting, each community would save millions of dollars if it went with Evanston over their current provider, the City of Chicago. Chicago, he said, has raised rates and continues to raise rates. Savings estimates assume Chicago will continue to raise rates at 2% per year.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “If I were in any of these communities, I would [switch] to Evanston because it is cheaper.” She asked why Evanston had not signed up any new customers despite three studies in 2012, 2013 and 2014, all of which showed the savings that could be realized.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the City of Evanston insisted upon getting a proper return on its investment in the water plan, and that “some communities think [a 10% return is] too much.” He said that he believed Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge “would like to do a deal with us,” but closing the deal is a complex undertaking involving large amounts of money and multiple jurisdictions.
Mr. Stoneback said he suspected the responsibility of managing a water-main construction project might be holding potential customers back. He said that communities might be swayed if Evanston were to agree to be the lead agent on the construction project.
As for profit to Evanston, Mr. Stoneback estimated the City would realize $78 million over 30 years if Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge signed up. If Lincolnwood were to join, the City would stand to make another $18 million over 30 years.
Upgrades to the City’s water plant, including increased reservoir capacity, may become necessary as customers come on board.