DuPage Water Commission extends Lake Michigan contract with Chicago for 17 years

Chicago will remain the supplier of Lake Michigan water to most of DuPage County for at least the next 17 years.

Despite recently inking a new deal with the city, DuPage Water Commission leaders said they will continue to explore the potential of a new supplier that can provide a direct pipeline to allow the agency to lower costs and gain control of pumping equipment.

“We’re being overcharged, and we want operational control back of the Lexington (pumping) station, which is in disarray,” said Jim Zay, chairman of the water commission’s board. “We’re one of Chicago’s largest revenue sources for water. And we’re paying them all this money, and they’re putting nothing back into the system.”

Chicago officials did not respond to requests for comment about the new deal and the city’s fractured relationship with the commission.

An August 2023 report commissioned by the water commission indicated the Lexington station needed $16.5 million worth of repairs and upgrades.

The report was issued two months after the commission announced plans to seek an alternate supplier because city officials were not being responsive to the commission’s concerns about system upkeep and a contract extension. The original 40-year contract was set to expire this year.

The water commission supplies drinking water to nearly three dozen communities in DuPage County, including Naperville, Wheaton and Elmhurst. If the Lexington station were to fail, officials said, there would only be two days worth of water available to customers.

“If the Lexington station fails, it would impact the water supplier for nearly 1 million DuPage County residents,” said Paul May, the water commission’s executive director. “Therefore, we continue to advance all options for water supply that make financial and operational sense for DuPage County, including the construction of a new regional suburban water system.”

Another point of contention between the water commission and the city is the deal the city recently struck with Joliet to supply water to that city. Chicago is using a so-called “cost of service” model to calculate the rate Joliet will pay for water.

Once operational, it is estimated Joliet will pay between $2.50 and $3 per 1,000 gallons of water. Currently, the water commission pays $4.54 per 1,000 gallons, and the rate goes up annually based on inflation, but not to exceed 5%.

“By their own estimates, they’re overcharging us,” Zay complained. “Last month, they didn’t even send us a bill. We had to call them, and they just said to pay what we thought we owed. Who does that?”

If the commission decides to cut ties with Chicago, it could take 12 to 15 years to build the infrastructure necessary to connect with a different supplier and cost upward of $7 billion, officials said.

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