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New customers could help pay for water plant upgrades

City staff Monday told aldermen there’s hope of covering at least some of the cost of upgrading the city’s water treatment plant by adding more communities as wholesale customers for Evanston water.

City staff Monday told aldermen there’s hope of covering at least some of the cost of upgrading the city’s water treatment plant by adding more communities as wholesale customers for Evanston water.

City chart showing current (in red) and possible future Evanston water customers (in yellow).

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that because the City of Chicago has dramatically raised the wholesale rates it charges suburbs for water, Evanston now is in a position to expand its water service by undercutting Chicago’s rates.

Evanston already sells water to Skokie and to the Northwest Water Commission, which serves Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.

Bobkiewicz that in part because water usage by existing customers has been declining, Evanston’s water plant now has sufficient excess capacity to serve a few additional customers without expanding.

He says towns adjacent to Skokie — including Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, and Niles — could be good prospects for a near-term expansion.

With expansion of the city plant’s capacity and the addition of larger transmission mains or tunnels to the west, the city could, in cooperation with its existing water customers, potentially expand to serve perhaps as many as nine additional towns, from Park Ridge to Hoffman Estates.

Because most of those communities existing contracts with Chicago don’t expire for nearly a decade, the expansion is likely to take many years to work out and implement.

But with Chicago charging its wholesale customers $2.01 per 1000 gallons, compared to Evanston’s rate to Skokie of $0.94, Evanston officials see the potential for profitable growth. And they say they’ve found a lot of interest in the idea among leaders of the communities they’ve discussed the concept with so far.

City officials estimate Evanston needs to spend nearly $16 million on improvements to the water treatment plant over the next five years — separate from whatever it spends to upgrade the water distribution system within the city.

Utilities Director Dave Stoneback said that because each community that now receives Lake Michigan water has its own permit to take water from the lake, there would be no restriction under a interstate compact on the ability of those towns to switch from using Chicago to Evanston to deliver the water to them.

Communities that don’t now get water from the lake face severe limits on their ability to switch to that as their water source.

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