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updated: 8/29/2011 2:25 PM

Lake County communities consider Lake Michigan water sources

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The drive for Lake Michigan water by several Lake County communities is far from settled seven months after state approval to receive the precious commodity.

Early plans to form a new consortium to oversee an estimated $252 million project to bring Lake Michigan water to far flung areas in northern and western Lake County are in flux, as various opportunities have become available.

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"We're going through a very detailed evaluation of all possibilities of securing Lake Michigan water," said Peter Kolb, Lake County's public works director. "We all individually have allocations. How we get that is up to us."

In an effort that began more than four years ago, Lake County was one of nine entities that became the North-West Lake County Lake Michigan Water Planning Group.

With dwindling water supplies, the communities involved were looking for a reliable alternative. In January, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources approved requests to withdraw Lake Michigan water for eight communities and two water systems run by the county.

How that will be done and how much it will cost has become a moving target with various scenarios unfolding.

Lake Zurich and Long Grove already have dropped out of the consortium. A portion of Long Grove will receive lake water via the county system and Lake Zurich decided to look around.

"We were the last community on the end of this very long pipe," said Mayor Suzanne Branding. "We're very fortunate in Lake Zurich to be in a location where there are several other alternatives."

Wauconda also is considering options.

"The primary evaluation tool is the cost to the residents of Wauconda," said Village Administrator Dave Geary. "We're shopping right now."

One of the potential sources is the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency (CLC JAWA), formed in the early 1990s to bring Lake Michigan water to 10 entities.

Conservation practices and potential improvements to the system have shown there could be as much as 7 million gallons of lake water available each day, according to Darrell Blenniss Jr., executive director.

"We could be an option for some," he said.

What's available isn't enough for all the communities in the North-West group, however. Two possibilities have emerged: Wauconda and Volo; or, Lake Villa, Lindenhurst and two systems operated by Lake County.

"We're doing an engineering study. We'll see what it costs to get the infrastructure out to those communities," Blenniss said. His agency would pay 25 percent of the $60,000 study, with the others being asked to contribute a percentage based on how much water they need.

This new wrinkle has added another layer to an already complicated endeavor.

"That's another consideration you have to put in your decision grid," Kolb said. "This has become a little more of a jigsaw puzzle. Everybody has to examine their options."

The North-West group had considered forming a governing body similar to CLC JAWA, but who will be left to pursue that is unknown at this point.

"It's an interesting time for the group," Wauconda's Geary said. A follow-up to Lake Michigan water is scheduled to be discussed Wednesday by the village's public works committee.

Bill Balling, project manager for the North-West group, said there are several cities and agencies that draw and treat lake water but no single one has the capacity to serve all of those members.

Meanwhile, the group continues to meet twice a month with the goal of having answers regarding the possibilities and costs by the end of the year.

"The members themselves have to really understand and the public will demand that," he said.

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