Mayor Hank Kuspa is ready to take another look at alternatives for water delivery as word of a significant rate increase trickles down the Chicago government pipeline.
Suburbs that get their water from Lake Michigan, including Oak Forest, could pay for 47 percent of the infrastructure improvements Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has outlined in his budget proposals, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"I'm very concerned about not being able to have any control over the most basic of services for our residents—clean, safe water," Kuspa said.
That would mean a 25 percent hike to water rates next year and 15 percent for the following three years to help cover the cost of the city’s plan to convert four pumping stations from steam to electricity.
This comes during a time that Oak Forest is already anticipating an increase to residents' water bills because of ongoing negotiations to pay for improvements to Oak Lawn's water delivery system.
"This recent development may force us to go back and look at other options again," Kuspa said. "Options that we dismissed once as not being cost-effective."
Oak Forest gets its Chicago water from Oak Lawn via pipelines from Tinley Park. New Lenox, Mokena, Oak Forest and Orland Park also get their Chicago water from Oak Lawn. Those municipalities are negotiating a fair rate that each will pay for $100 million of improvements to Oak Lawn's delivery system. Separate from Chicago's planned rate hikes, these improvements would likely bring an increase to residents' water bills.
City Clerk Scott Burkhardt said the main concern about the city's water supply coming from Chicago is that the water main is old.
"Our fear is that when it fails, it will take a while to repair," Burkardt said.
The municipalities have been working together for some time, and have looked at alternative sources, including Hammond, IN.
"We're looking into possible redundant water sources like Oak Lawn," Kuspa said. "That does not mean we're not considering other options, like Hammond, IN."
The infrastructure of Chicago's water system is complex and the possibility that residents might see a hike in water rates is very real, officials said.
"Is it going to be expensive? Oh God, yes," Burkhardt said.