What most concerns residents of the six communities that will switch from well water to Lake Michigan water is the cost, said Phil Perna, associate director of Lake County’s department of public works.
At an open house Saturday in Lake Villa, several of the 50 residents attending asked about the fees involved.
“Individually, I don’t know what this is going to mean for me. I’m retired and on a fixed income,” said James Dayhuff of Lindenhurst. “This seems like a reasonable plan right now, but I just don’t know yet. If my neighbors don’t use as much water as me, am I going to be paying more?”
Dayhuff lives in one of the six area communities that are switching to Lake Michigan water because local wells are drying up.
Lake Villa, Lindenhurst, Volo, Wauconda and parts of unincorporated Lake County including Grandwood Park and Fox Lake Hills plan to join the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency.
A 22-mile water piping extension will bring treated Lake Michigan water from the water agency to the newly joined communities. The project will cost $40 million.
Based on a home worth $200,000 with 6,000 gallons of water used per month, the fee would be $30 a year for a special service area tax, which pays for the project construction, Perna said.
But in 2016, when construction starts, the property tax for a homeowner with a $200,000 house will jump to $250 a year with an additional water rate of $16.56 a month, he said. In 2019, the property tax will be lowered by $30 a year.
Perna said switching to Lake Michigan water is the best option financially.
“In most cases, if we don’t go to Lake Michigan water, we have to drill more wells and create a water treatment system,” he said.
Jim Smith, village engineer for Lake Villa and primary researcher for the project, said the alternative to joining the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency would be creating a radium removal water treatment system, which would cost more than a million dollars to build plus operational expenses.
Bill Soucie, executive director of Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency, said that with new technology such as shower heads that use less water, the agency can now provide water to other communities while keeping the fixed cost for local communities.
“It brings relief to our existing rate payers by keeping the rates from going up,” Soucie said.
The Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency now includes Grayslake, Gurnee, Lake Bluff, Libertyville, Mundelein, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach and unincorporated parts of Lake County. Those communities will not pay any more for the project.
“We charge every [community] the same rate, so the new communities will not be charged more than our current members. Each member will have a full vote and have just as much say as our mayors [who are already in the agency],” Soucie said.
Smith explained the issues with local aquifers. The wells go down 1,000 to 1,200 feet into the sandstone, and are subject to contamination such as radium.
“It’s hard water. It has iron. We have an inadequate capacity because the community wells impact each other, and we’re pumping down the groundwater table,” Smith said.
He added that McHenry County relies on the same water table and will be using more water in the future.