A complicated formula for determining the water rate charged by the City of Evanston to its water customers, including the Northwest Water Commission, Morton Grove, and others, led to a lawsuit filed against Skokie upon the expiration of the Evanston-Skokie contract last year. In a water-fund update delivered to City Council at its Feb. 12 meeting, the City’s Director of Public Works Dave Stoneback addressed the lawsuit and other issues, including lead service pipes.

Mr. Stoneback said the City of Evanston sends a bill to Skokie charging $2.06 per 1,000 gallons of water; Skokie, however, pays only $0.78 per 1,000 gallons. The standoff began in October 2017 and resulted in the pending litigation. As a reference point, Skokie charges its residents $42.72 per 100 cubic feet of water, which translates to about $15.11 per 1,000 gallons. This rate includes sewer and distribution charges.

Mr. Stoneback told City Council that the formula used to determine water rates comes from the American Water Works Association’s recommended water rate formula and includes payment for the use and upkeep of water distribution systems. Customers that use Evanston’s infrastructure to deliver water to its customers, like Skokie, pay more because they are responsible for a percentage, based on their usage, of the infrastructure’s upkeep. Those who simply hook into Evanston’s system and pump water out appear to pay less, but must pay for the maintenance and upkeep, and initially the installation, of the water distribution system – the pipes and pumps.

As a result, it may appear on the surface that some communities pay less for Evanston water than others. According to Mr. Stoneback, though, when infrastructure upkeep is taken into account, everyone pays the same based upon the AWWA formula.

 Monday’s presentation highlighted the complicated formula that informs the Skokie lawsuit. The Northwest Water Commission, Evanston’s largest water customer, pays $0.66 per 1,000 gallons. They use only the water pumping station portion of Evanston’s infrastructure – their pipe connects directly into the pumping station. They pay only for water and their share of the pumping station’s maintenance and improvements,

Morton Grove and Niles are expected to pay a proposed $0.78 when they come online in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Mr. Stoneback’s presentation. Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty said those communities are “investing $93 million in infrastructure” and building a pumping station at 2525 Church St. It is this proposed rate that Skokie mimics despite the fact Skokie connects to Evanston’s distribution system at three separate points and therefore uses more than three times the infrastructure of other customers. Evanston provides not just water but water pressure to Skokie. Lincolnwood is still considering becoming an Evanston customer. If they do, they will connect to Evanston’s supply at Oakton, and therefore use more infrastructure – the pipes between the main pumping station near Lincoln and Sheridan – than Morton Grove-Niles. Lincolnwood’s proposed rate would be $1.44 per 1,000 gallons in 2019.

In addition to the water sale update, Mr. Stoneback also addressed lead pipes and lead in the water. Most pipes from Evanston water mains into people’s homes are lead, he said, estimating 56% of the City leads are lead and 92% of private pipes – from the switch box usually near the curb into Evanston homes – are lead. He directed citizens to the City’s website to see if their home is serviced by lead pipes.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, tested the website during the meeting. “Both of my houses,” she said, her current home and the home she moved out of, have copper service lines. The website shows lead for both, she said. “Well, that’s a problem,” she told Mr. Stoneback.  

Mr. Stoneback admitted the City’s data was not perfect, and encouraged any residents with corrections to contact the City.