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Water rates rising in Olympia Fields

Updated: February 17, 2014 8:05AM



Olympia Fields residents’ water bills are going up about 9 percent as of this month, as rate hikes from Chicago and Oak Lawn are passed on to their municipal customers.

The average monthly cost will increase from $9.11 per thousand gallons to $9.93 per thousand gallons, village officials said.

None of that money is going to Olympia Fields, which will adjust its rates in May, village manager David Mekarski said.

Olympia Fields buys its Lake Michigan water from Oak Lawn, which in turn gets it from Chicago. The village’s contract with Oak Lawn ends in 2024.

About 18 percent of the increase will go to Oak Lawn for maintenance and operating costs. The lion’s share, about 80 percent, comes from Chicago’s rate increase, according to a memo from public works director Joe Alexa.

It says Chicago is raising its water rate for its suburban customers by 70 percent over four years to pay for major improvements to its water distribution system.

“One of the most critical decisions (the village) is going to be faced with in the next 50 to 100 years is where we get our water supply,” Mekarski told the village board.

In addition to Chicago’s rate hikes, Oak Lawn is requiring its suburban customers to help pay for about $160 million worth of upgrades to its delivery system, including a second major water line to substantially increase the system’s capacity.

Olympia Fields, Matteson and Country Club Hills also need to provide a loop supply, a $22 million project that would ensure that the villages have access to water from a second source in case of emergency.

“Most water systems are looped because if a main breaks in one part of the village, you can turn off the valve and you still have water coming from the other end,” Mekarski said. “We just happen to be at the end of a system.”

He said that a few years ago, the water main from Oak Lawn broke, leaving Olympia Fields without water for three days, exactly the amount of water reserved in the water towers. If the repairs had taken longer, the village could have faced disaster, he said.

“No sewage, no restaurants, no offices, no hospitals, no firefighters,” Mekarski said. “It would be catastrophic if we were without water.”

With no guarantee that Matteson or Country Club Hills would be willing to split the $22 million cost, Olympia Fields is considering other options, he said.

The village is in the middle of a financial and engineering analysis to see whether staying with Oak Lawn or switching water providers to Chicago Heights would be more cost effective, Mekarski said.

“We don’t want to rush into any decisions until we do due diligence and weigh all possibilities,” Mayor Debbie Meyers-Martin said. “We need an alternative source, and we know that. We need to make sure we get the best deal.”

Even though prices are rising, Olympia Fields is geographically well-placed for water access, Mekarski said.

“We have one of the richest, highest-quality aquifers in the world,” he said. “Everybody knows what they pay for a gallon of milk at the grocery store or for gasoline at the pump. People don’t realize we’re getting high-quality water from Lake Michigan, transmitted by a series of complicated infrastructures, all the way to your tap for less than a penny a gallon.”



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