Check your faucets, Wauconda -- Lake Michigan water is coming
Wauconda's water supply switched from local wells to Lake Michigan with the press of a button Thursday.
Mayor Lincoln Knight had the honor of activating the new water system at a pumping station on Gilmer Road.
Within two or three days, any water coming out of faucets in Wauconda will be Lake Michigan water, Village Administrator Kevin Timony said. Because of how water flows, some customers will have Lake Michigan water sooner than others.
Officials are trying to hurry the process along by flushing well water out through select fire hydrants and other valves.
The new system, which cost Wauconda nearly $48 million, is the result of more than a decade of planning and years of construction.
Village leaders are elated.
"To finally have it finished is just amazing," Trustee Chuck Black said. "Lake Michigan water is one of the truly great accomplishments for the village of Wauconda and its residents."
The system is part of a regional endeavor overseen by a utility called the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency.
Wauconda officials will celebrate the system's completion with a ceremony on Oct. 11, at the Gilmer Road pumping station. The 3 p.m. event will include remarks from village officials, a ceremonial valve turning and a tour of the facility.
Wauconda officials began pursuing Lake Michigan water in 2006 because the village's eight wells were expected to run dry by 2030. Contamination was a concern, too.
In 2012, voters approved a plan to pay for a new water system by increasing property taxes and water rates. The actual cost will be less than the original $50 million estimate.
The project was fraught with political controversy that nearly sank it. In 2013, while Wauconda was negotiating to join CLCJAWA, newly elected Mayor Frank Bart publicly questioned the project's financing and said he wanted the village to reinvestigate all options -- including joining a different water group or sticking with wells.
Bart's comments and attitude so annoyed members of the water agency's board, they initially voted to refuse Wauconda membership.
Black recalled feeling "devastated" by the agency's rejection.
"So much work had already gone into the project at that point," he said. "I will never forget that ride home that night from the meeting. My head was spinning."
After publicly rebuking Bart for his role in the debacle, other Wauconda officials worked to repair the town's relationship with the agency. Wauconda was invited to join in 2014 on the condition that Bart not serve as the village's envoy. That role fell to Knight, then a trustee.
With the political drama settled, planning continued and construction got underway. Miles of pipe for new water mains were laid, and the new pumping station, new water storage tanks and other facilities were built.
Of Wauconda's eight wells, four will be decommissioned and capped. The other four are deeper and will remain as a backup water supply for emergencies, Timony said.
Knight is the only current elected official who also held office when the board starting researching water options in 2006. Those initial talks seem like they occurred "a lifetime ago," Knight said.
"But here we are bringing that idea to reality," he said. "It's a great feeling to see this happen for our village."
Wauconda's connection to the regional system created an opportunity for nearby Volo to ditch its well system and join the water agency, too. Lake Michigan water could be coursing through Volo's pipes within two weeks, Village Administrator Mike May said.
"We are very excited," he said.
Wauconda and Volo are sharing many costs associated with the effort. The project is expected to cost Volo up to $12 million, May said.
Switching to Lake Michigan water means people in Wauconda and Volo can stop using mechanical water softeners.
Lake Michigan water doesn't clog pipes with mineral deposits, and people should see less buildup in their sinks and tubs, too, officials said.
Additionally, residents should need less detergent when washing clothes.