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Article updated: 10/11/2012 4:34 PM

Should Wauconda get water from Lake Michigan?

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

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Wauconda Mayor Mark Knigge points to this summer's drought when asked why the town needs to do something about its drinking water supply.

After weeks without rain, the water level in one of the village's wells was so low it couldn't be pumped. That happened at the same time mechanical problems shut down another well, prompting officials to temporarily restrict lawn watering.

"Water is our most valuable resource," Knigge said. "If you don't have ... good, clean water, your opportunities as a village are severely limited."

Knigge and other officials think they've found a solution.

On Election Day, Wauconda voters will decide if a $50 million plan to bring drinking water from Lake Michigan to the suburb should move forward.

Residents can learn more about the proposal at a town hall-style meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at Wauconda High School, 555 N. Main St.

Homes and businesses in Wauconda get water from eight wells that are expected to run dry in 18 years.

As the village's population grows, the wells will not keep up with demand for clean water, Knigge said.

But well contamination is an even greater concern.

In 2006, potential carcinogens were discovered in some other shallow wells in the Wauconda area. They came from a nearby environmental cleanup site.

Officials insist nothing is wrong with the town's water supply. Switching to Lake Michigan water would be a proactive step.

Knigge called the situation "one of the most important issues facing the village of Wauconda."

The pipes and other infrastructure needed to deliver water from Lake Michigan to Wauconda would cost $41 million. That work would be funded with a property-tax rate increase, officials have said.

Converting the water systems now in Wauconda's homes and businesses would cost $9 million. Water rates would increase to cover those costs.

The referendum will only ask voters to approve a $41 million loan for the infrastructure improvements.

The entire project can't be funded with such loans because the town's debt limit is capped at $41 million, according to village documents.

The owner of a house valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $516 a year in property taxes and water fees if the project is approved, documents indicate.

An estimated 400 customers who live outside Wauconda's boundaries but who are on the town's water system would benefit from the change, too -- but their financial burden would be different.

Those property owners already pay a 25-percent surcharge to receive village water, and that fee will be increased to offset the cost of the project, officials said.

Their property taxes will not increase if the referendum passes, however. They don't get to vote on the plan, either.

Although some communities switch water supplies without seeking voter approval, Knigge said he is proud to put the issue on the ballot. Letting people decide the issue is the right thing to do, he added.

Village leaders have spoken to about 10 community groups about the water issue in recent months. Some people -- especially those who live in special taxing districts -- have had concerns, but most have been "highly supportive," Knigge said.

He's unaware of any organized opposition.

The opportunity to get water from Lake Michigan is limited.

Wauconda has been allocated water service from Lake Michigan through the Illinois Lake Michigan Water Allocation Program. If the town doesn't sign on by 2015, the option expires, Knigge said.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said.

The village's website features reports and other information about the water proposal. They can be viewed at wauconda-il.gov/lake-michigan-water-project.

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