Flossmoor and 10 other south suburban communities – including Homewood – are on the verge of forming a regional commission that will study alternatives to purchasing Lake Michigan water from Chicago.
At their Dec. 19 meeting, Flossmoor village board members unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the other municipalities that is the first step toward the establishment of a regional water authority.
All 11 communities currently receive Lake Michigan water from Chicago. In recent years, the city has imposed a number of hefty price increases on its suburban water customers.
Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun said Monday’s action constitutes a “baby step” toward securing an alternative water supply, but that it’s necessary because of Chicago’s continuing price hikes.
“We don’t want to get caught short with Chicago,” Braun said.
Other communities expected to take part in the water study are Calumet Park, Country Club Hills, East Hazel Crest, Hazel Crest, Markham, Matteson, Olympia Fields, South Holland and Thornton.
Braun mentioned a water route that currently connects Hammond, Ind., and Chicago Heights. Flossmoor and Homewood each share borders with Chicago Heights, which could be a possible link to Hammond’s Lake Michigan water.
Other board members said they are in favor of looking for alternative water sources.
“We’ve never had the power of a group before,” said Diane Williams. “This is the right thing for us to do.”
James Mitros said Flossmoor is already experiencing “the worst possible scenario of how we get our water.”
“This is well worth our while,” he said. “I’d say it’s almost necessary.”
The IGA will be considered by the Homewood village board at its Jan. 10 meeting.
Under the terms of the IGA, Olympia Fields will serve as the lead agency for administrative purposes. Robinson Engineering, Olympia Field’s engineering firm, will prepare the study into what it will take to shift to alternative water sources. Each community joining the IGA will need to pay the lead agency $10,000 so that work on the study can begin.
The agreement is designed so that the member communities can:
- Negotiate the terms of contract for Lake Michigan water and professional services.
- Provide a forum for bulk Lake Michigan supply planning and decision making.
- Provide for preliminary funding and cost sharing.
- Engage in and accomplish other bulk Lake Michigan water supply planning and project development activities.
Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel said the communities started meeting about an alternative water initiative this summer. She said Olympia Fields Mayor Debbie Meyers-Martin and South Holland Mayor Don De Graff were integral in initially getting the communities together to discuss the project.
The study will also point out how much work is needed on existing water systems before they can be hooked up to alternative water sources, said John Brunke, Flossmoor’s public works director.
“We won’t know if significant infrastructure upgrades are needed until the study is complete and an alternative water supply is identified,” Brunke said.
Chicago imposed significant water rate increases for its suburban customers for four straight years, starting in 2012. The rate hikes were, respectively, 25 percent, 15, percent, 15 percent and 15 percent. There was no rate increase in 2016. Flossmoor, in response to those price hikes, increased water rates for its local customers.
Homewood and Flossmoor receive water directly from Harvey, which buys it from Chicago. In selling water to Homewood and Flossmoor, Harvey has also added its own, smaller, price increases.