DuPage Water Commission buys Northbrook golf course for $80 million

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct what the DuPage Water Commission pays the city of Chicago.

The DuPage Water Commission has purchased a former golf course in Northbrook for $80.5 million in a move that could potentially pave the way for a “once-in-a-lifetime” regional water pipeline project, officials announced Wednesday.

The agency is still in the early stages of evaluating whether to build its own pipeline from Lake Michigan and circumvent the city of Chicago, its current supplier.

If the commission decides to cut ties with Chicago, it could take 12 to 15 years to build the necessary infrastructure and cost roughly $5.3 billion to $7 billion, depending on the pipeline route they take, officials estimate.

The commission moved quickly to buy the 127-acre property in Northbrook because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, electric transmission facilities as well as railroad and highway corridors.

“Lake Michigan is a natural resource,” said Jim Zay, chairman of the water commission’s board. “Just because the City of Chicago is up against it doesn't mean that you can't go somewhere else to get water. And they’ve made it pretty obvious that they, I guess, don't want us as a customer anymore. They won't talk to us and won't work with us. So we have to take those next steps forward.”

Commission leaders have had initial talks with Glencoe officials about getting access to Lake Michigan through the village and met with federal lawmakers, Zay said. Officials described the former Green Acres Golf Club property in nearby Northbrook as uniquely suited for the project — specifically for a water treatment plant and a pumping station.

“We don’t need 127 acres. We’re not sure how many we need, but we don’t need the whole parcel,” said Zay, noting the commission still has to do a land-use plan.

The agency used reserves to pay for the property, a “major piece of the possibility of us building a water plant up there,” Zay said.

“We didn’t lose that money. We made an $80 million real estate purchase so that’s still an asset for us in the future,” he said.

The commission, which provides drinking water to nearly three dozen communities in DuPage County, from Naperville to Wheaton to Elmhurst, is Chicago’s biggest water client.

One point of contention between the water commission and the city is the deal the city 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.

In fiscal 2023, the DuPage commission paid Chicago $124.85 million for 27.5 billion gallons of water. At the beginning of 2024, Chicago charged the commission $4.54 per 1,000 gallons. On June 1, the rate increases to $4.70 per 1,000 gallons.

“The economics now present an opportunity for a new regional system to be constructed which will position suburban communities in northeastern Illinois to manage water resources in a way which provides improved governance and ensures rate stability for future generations of Lake Michigan water consumers,” commission General Manager Paul May said in a statement Wednesday.

The commission in February announced the two sides agreed to a 17-year, shorter-term contract to extend their agreement with Chicago. A city official could not be reached for comment.

– Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.

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