After more than two years of effort, Evanston still hasn't been able to sign up any more towns to buy water from the city.
Back in 2012, city officials figured Chicago's decision to sharply raise rates it charges suburban customers had created a golden opportunity for Evanston to line up new customers and generate profits from the city's water plant.
But the emergence of other would-be sellers -- including an alliance of Wilmette and Glenview -- has given the other towns more options to consider.
Combine that with sharply varying cost estimates depending on how many additional towns come on board and the huge cost of infrastructure improvements to deliver the water, and none of the towns Evanston officials have approached are yet willing to commit to the project.
Some towns that showed initial interest have backed away, while others have joined the discussions.
In a presentation to aldermen this week, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Utilities Director Dave Stoneback said there now are options to get a pipeline built to some of the other towns for less money than had previously been estimated.
In a 2012 study, the cost of building a pipeline to serve Lincolnwood, Niles, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and the Northwest Water Commission was estimated at about $230 million.
This year the cost of a line to serve Morton Grove, Niles, Park Ridge and Glenview came in at about $135 million.
All the prices would vary depending on which towns were included, which path was chosen for the line and whether Evanston had to expand its treatment plant to meet the extra demand.
Even though the Evanston projections suggest some of the communities could save $2 million a year or more on their water costs, the prospect of investing millions in a new transmission line has given them pause.
"Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge would be a lot more interested if Evanston became the lead agency on construction of the pipeline," Stoneback said.
So far Evanston has assumed that the communities to be served by the pipeline would collaborate among themselves to fund it.
And the other towns also are balking at Evanston's expectation that it should earn a 10 percent rate of return on its investment. "Some of our neighbor communities think that's too much," Bobkiewicz says.
The Wilmette water plant, in an image from Google Maps.
So, for the moment, Glenview, which gets its water from Wilmette, is leading a study to explore expanding Wilmette's service through Glenview to Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge.
Evanston's biggest current customer, the Northwest Water Commission, is working with another group, the Northwest Suburban Municipal Joint Action Water Agency, to explore the possibility of creating a new water treatment facility and delivery system that would draw water from the lake at Glencoe.
The NWC, which serves four communities, gets all its water from one pipe from Evanston. "That pipe has never been turned off for maintenance, because they can't, they need the constant flow," Bobkiewicz says, "and that's a very tenuous situation."
Des Plaines is considered likely to join the Northwest Water Commission, but Bobkiewicz says the other member communities "aren't sure they want Des Plaines to join."
And Lincolnwood. Bobkiewicz says, is waiting to see what other communities do.
Looming on the horizon is the need to renegotiate Evanston's contract to supply water to its oldest customer, the Village of Skokie.
Bobkiewicz says the current Skokie contract -- scheduled to expire in February 2017 -- doesn't give Evanston a proper return on its investment.