Lake Michigan water projects pick up steam in Lake County

Dank weather last week didn't diminish the excitement of a group of officials, engineers and others gathered one morning beneath the Lindenhurst water tower for a milestone event.

Earth already had been moved and the site prepared for construction of the two major elements that eventually will deliver Lake Michigan water to local taps. A concrete reservoir to hold 1 million gallons of water and a pump to boost it into the tower and through the system will take nine months to build.

No one needed reminding of how long this moment had been in the works.

"It's absolutely real now," Lindenhurst Village Administrator Matt Formica said.

Work on several fronts has been completed or is underway in Lindenhurst, Lake Villa and the unincorporated communities of Fox Lake Hills and Grandwood Park, in anticipation of receiving Lake Michigan water likely in early 2018.

Indeed, it has been a long, convoluted and, at times, contentious process since the first mention about 10 years ago of extending Lake Michigan water to Lindenhurst and other communities in north and western Lake County that have been seeking a more reliable and plentiful source than wells.

Plans are rapidly advancing on parallel tracks: improvements including new water mains, storage facilities and other equipment needed to receive and distribute the water within communities, and 12 miles of big pipes that will deliver it from the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency plant in Lake Bluff.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of coordination," agency Executive Director Darrell Blenniss Jr. said.

Just-mailed property tax bills reflect the project's acceleration. In 2014 and 2015, owners of a $200,000 home in Special Service Area 16, designated to pay for the water agency portion, saw an increase of about $32. Proceeds from the area, which encompasses 11,295 parcels, were used to pay the initial $7 million for project design and to acquire easements. This year, the tax jumped to about $255 and will be assessed for 25 to 30 years.

"This will be the third year, but it's the first time it's actually jumped," said Peter Kolb, Lake County public works director. "The level is set to fund the construction."

Those proceeds will be used to pay $42 million that will be borrowed to fund extension of Lake Michigan water pipelines. The work will be bid as four construction packages, the first to be opened June 10.

Local projects to connect to the new source will be paid largely through increased water rates.

"There are a lot of construction projects," Formica said. "All of it's water right now."

The project is not as simple as disconnecting one system and reconnecting to a new source. Several projects within the individual communities need to be done to receive Lake Michigan water and distribute it to houses and businesses.

Lindenhurst, for example, gets water from eight wells scattered around the village, so the water needs to be moved a relatively short distance, according to Mike Forslund of Strand Associates, the consulting engineering firm.

When the switch is made, the single supply point will be at the far south end of the system so larger mains are needed to distribute the water. The village also is installing water mains in areas that had been on private wells, he added.

In Lake Villa, several water mains, including a 70-year-old one along Grand Avenue, already have been replaced. Village officials determined the change was needed because they worried what would happen when Lake Michigan water, which is delivered at a higher pressure, flows through the main.

"There was a strong feeling it would crumble and fall apart," Village Administrator Karl Warwick said.

Another crucial project is the Sun Lake Forest Preserve water main, which connects the village's north and south water systems. The $1.5 million project will allow Lake Michigan water to flow to the Painted Lakes and Oakland Ridge subdivisions.

A second aboveground water storage tank also will provide several days of supply if the village is disconnected from the Lake Michigan system.

Altogether, Lake Villa will spend about $7.5 million for local improvements. About $2 million of that will come from cash reserves. The rest has been borrowed through a low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to be repaid from local water bills.

Blenniss Jr. said pipe installation should begin in summer. The first project will connect Grandwood Park; the second, Lindenhurst; the third, Lake Villa; and, finally, Fox Lake Hills.

The agency has entered into a similar agreement with Volo and Wauconda, but they are further behind in planning, he added.

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  The site has been graded and work is about to get underway in Lindenhurst for a pump station and 1 million-gallon reservoir to accept Lake Michigan water. Mick Zawislak/
The new water mains have been installed on Thornwood Drive in Lindenhurst. Courtesy of Village of Lindenhurst
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