Mokena trustee seeks to create task force to fight Chicago water rates
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2014 8:52PM
Don Labriola | Supplied photo
Updated: May 15, 2014 6:17AM
The continually rising cost of getting Lake Michigan water from Chicago has so riled Mokena Village Trustee Don Labriola that he hopes to create a Suburban Water Task Force of local officials and residents to discuss their options.
The initial meeting will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pipefitters Local 597 Training Center, 10850 W. 187th St., Mokena. It is open to the public.
Among Labriola’s concerns are that Chicago’s water rates went up 25 percent in 2012, 15 percent last year and this year, and will go up another 15 percent in 2015.
Unlike suburban residents, many Chicago residents are not metered but are charged a flat fee. The city also “gave away” $20 million a year in water to nonprofits (until recently enacting a sliding-scale payment system), and more water is lost to leaks in the system, Labriola said.
“Someone has to pay for that,” Labriola said. “Chicago is using us as their piggy bank. They think we have an open checkbook.”
There are 170 municipalities that get lake water from Chicago, and no one has brought all of them together to discuss these issues, he said.
Several towns have teamed up, however, to create two smaller water agencies to explore cost-effective solutions, and one — the South Suburban Joint Area Water Agency — is moving forward with a plan to circumvent Chicago, records show.
The agency, which includes Alsip, Markham, Midlothian, Blue Island and Calumet Park, has negotiated a deal with Hammond, Ind., to be its water source, Alsip Mayor Pat Kitching said, according to minutes from the March Alsip Village Board meeting. Kitching reported that JAWA was expected to vote on the deal at its subsequent meeting, according to the minutes.
Meanwhile, Homer Glen joined the Northern Will County Water Agency with Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Woodridge and Lemont and is attempting to use eminent domain to buy water lines from Illinois American Water.
Mokena is one of 13 towns served by the Oak Lawn system that distributes water from Chicago. Oak Lawn soon will build a new additional pipeline and delivery system aimed at ensuring an adequate and uninterrupted water supply for the next 40 years.
Labriola believes they may be able to accomplish more to control the cost of water through a unified effort.
“This is a huge task, but it has to start somewhere,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
He has reached out to state and county officials and hopes to get residents involved as well.
“Chicago can charge whatever it wants,” he said. “This will be an exploratory meeting to get a movement started. We have to do something.”