The Northwest Water Commission has approved a plan to sell up to 5 million gallons of water a day to Des Plaines -- a deal city officials negotiated over the past year to try to lessen the impact of Chicago's water rate hikes.
The agreement is contingent on approval by at least three village boards of the member municipalities that comprise the commission: Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.
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It would be the first time in the 58-year history of the Northwest Water Commission that the agency would sell water to an outside municipality. Des Plaines wouldn't be a voting member of the commission.
Even though the commission's headquarters is at 1525 N. Wolf Road on Des Plaines' north side, the city of Des Plaines has purchased its water from Chicago since the 1960s. It wasn't until Chicago hiked water rates by 25 percent in 2012, followed by 15 percent increases in the following years through 2015, that Des Plaines officials began looking for an alternative water source.
Officials say the deal is also rare among water agencies in the suburbs.
"I think it's a good venture for everybody," said Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen, one of the commission's five voting members. "Governments coming together and working together -- it's good for everybody."
The agreement was approved unanimously Wednesday by the commission, composed of representatives of the four member towns and a chairman appointed by the Cook County Board president.
The contract approval is also contingent on the commission receiving Des Plaines' engineering design plans for construction of a pipeline that would connect the agency's water tank on Wolf Road to the Des Plaines pumping station and reservoir at 877 Central Road -- a little more than a mile away.
Most commission members said Wednesday they don't anticipate their village boards would be opposed to the deal.
Des Plaines officials plan to turn the spigot on their new water source by 2016, after design work and construction of the 6,500-foot, 24-inch pipeline is complete. The pipeline would run either along a ComEd right of way or via Wolf and Central roads.
The city has budgeted $6 million over the next two years to build the pipeline and make improvements to the Central Road pumping station. Much of the expense is being funded by the city's share of Rivers Casino revenues.
Des Plaines plans to pay the commission $10,000 a day for up to 5 million gallons of water. The city will still use between 1 million and 2 million gallons a day from Chicago -- necessary in order to keep Des Plaines' water tank on Maple Street south of Touhy Avenue in operation, officials said.
But they estimate Des Plaines will still be able to save $7,000 a day through the new arrangement.
Mayor Matt Bogusz said cost savings would be passed along to residents after the city eliminates its growing deficit in the water and sewer fund, caused by Chicago's rate hikes and Des Plaines sewer repair costs. The fund is about $1 million in the red this year, but officials project it could be as much as $3 million in the hole next year.
Should the commission decide to terminate the agreement, Des Plaines would be reimbursed the $6 million cost of the pipeline on a sliding scale over the course of 10 years. Though Des Plaines is funding the cost of the pipeline, plans call for the connection to be deeded over to the commission.
"One of the things that gives us a little heartburn … (is that) we want to negotiate a solution and not just terminate," Des Plaines City Manager Mike Bartholomew told commissioners. "We think after all this hard work, negotiating is a solution."
Scott Shirley, Arlington Heights' director of public works, said he thought the agreement's termination clause should remain the same, though he didn't anticipate the agreement would be terminated.
"I don't want to dilute the commission's position," Shirley said. "We have a vested interest."
The Des Plaines city council is scheduled to vote on the agreement Sept. 15. The four village boards are expected to consider the contract in November.