The Joliet City Council took action this week to postpone a vote on a professional services agreement for phase one of an alternative water source study.
Officials had raised concern over the idea of awarding a contract at their June 18 pre-council meeting.
Joliet currently uses an aquifer to operate its water system, which is comprised of 21 deep groundwater wells, 5 shallow groundwater wells, 11 wastewater treatment plants and 612 miles of water main.
Like many communities in the northern Illinois region, Joliet needs to decide what action to take in the event that its water supply runs dry. The water levels in the aquifer are expected to de-saturate within the next 15-30 years, according to the Illinois State Water Survey.
“For that reason, it’s very critical that at this time we really study this and come to a decision on an alternative water source,” said Allison Swisher, acting director of public works for the City of Joliet.
The city sought requests for qualifications and later went on to select a team.
While the council was slated to consider awarding a contract to Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT), several officials questioned how to proceed with the project. The team is made up by subcontractors having expertise and planning experience with river water, Lake Michigan and groundwater supplies.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk questioned if CMT will deliver the city with an objective solution and referenced the fact that this entity has more expertise with river water, whereas the subcontractors can make a case to be more reputable with regard to Lake Michigan and groundwater supplies.
Swisher said all the city is trying to do is get a fresh perspective on the matter, all while ensuring that transparency is maintained.
Based on the team’s pitch to the council, the city needs to work on stakeholder engagement and strategic planning in order to complete the phase one scope of work.
The city wants to secure an alternative water source that will meet its needs as set forth by population projections, a water audit and a sustainable water source assessment.
Joliet currently has 14 options for alternative water sources to consider.
O’Dekirk wants staff to narrow down its list of possibilities.
Councilman Larry Hug questioned why the city hasn’t ruled out groundwater supplies and referred to knowledge he had on its feasibility.
“I thought it had already been preliminary determined between the Kankakee River, Kankakee/Des Plaines River combination, and Lake Michigan,” he said.
City Manager David Hales contended that staff is finding that it’s important to keep its options on the table.
“We’ve already had that internal discussion that if within the first look at it, it’s not going to be viable option, then we will not continue to study it,” Swisher said.
Once phase one is completed, the city will need to select a firm to move forward with the remaining parts of the process of selecting an alternative water source.