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updated: 7/11/2012 4:06 PM

November referendum to decide Lake Michigan water project in Wauconda

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  • A water tower rises over homes along Gilmer Road in Wauconda.

       A water tower rises over homes along Gilmer Road in Wauconda.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Earl
jearl@dailyherald.com

After six years of researching options, Wauconda village officials will let residents decide whether to make the transition from wells to Lake Michigan water.

In November, voters will be asked by referendum if they want to support a $50 million project to make Lake Michigan water the village's primary water source.

Village Administrator David Geary said in order to make a switch officials need to know if residents are willing to pay for it.

"It's like going shopping with an empty pocketbook," Geary said. "We know the price, but we can't sign a deal until we know we're funded."

If the project is approved, village officials would begin final negotiations with a water source and work with a financial consultant.

The infrastructure to deliver Lake Michigan water to Wauconda would cost $41 million and would be funded through property taxes. Improvements to convert the current system from eight wells to a single water source and distribute water throughout the village will cost another $9 million, paid with water rates.

Officials estimated the average homeowner would pay an extra $43 a month in property taxes and water rates to help cover the project cost.

However, residents won't see those increases overnight.

Officials said they expect the infrastructure construction will take about five years to complete. During that time, the village will sell bonds to keep costs lower.

"Over the years, the cost would dissipate," Geary said.

The four shallow wells and four deep wells that now provide water for the village will run dry in 18 years, officials predict.

They have also noted concerns about radium and barium levels in deep wells and groundwater contamination in shallow wells.

"We know that shallow well contamination has already occurred in some outlying areas of unincorporated Wauconda," Trustee John Barbini said.

A potentially cancer-causing chemical, vinyl chloride, surfaced in wells near a Superfund site near Wauconda in 2006. That led to more than 400 homes in unincorporated areas connecting to Wauconda's municipal water system. Although the contamination wasn't necessarily directly linked to the Superfund site, officials said they can't guarantee the village's shallow wells are free from any impact.

Mayor Mark Knigge said if the majority of voters back the referendum, the village will select one of four water sources -- Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency (CLC JAWA), North and West Group, Northwest Water Commission, and the Village of Northbrook -- before 2015.

Gaining membership to CLC JAWA, formed in the early 1990s to bring Lake Michigan water to 10 entities, seems to be the main objective for the village.

"It's the governance we like, it's already established, in existence for 20-plus years," Knigge said. "We would be an independent voting member on the board, giving us a lot of control over how the system is run."

But officials said they are comfortable with using any of their four options.

If residents vote against the project, Wauconda will return the allocation to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, losing the opportunity to access Lake Michigan water.

"As a board, we have gone as far as we can go," Knigge said. "Now it's up to the voters to decide the future of Wauconda."

Village officials plan to start an educational campaign to help voters make an informed decision in November.

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