Consultant hired for Joliet water rate study

Burns & McDonnell will take another look at future rates for the next 10 years

Joliet water tower along Hennepin Drive. A project is underway that will bring Lake Michigan water to Joliet by 2030. Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022 in Joliet.

Engineering consultant Burns & McDonnell will prepare a study to give Joliet residents a more detailed look at the impact of the Lake Michigan project on water rates.

The City Council last week approved a $139,000 contract with Burns & McDonnell to prepare a study that will project water and sewer rates over the next 10 years.

That would go beyond 2030, which is the deadline Joliet has set for itself to begin delivery of Lake Michigan water to the city.

The city previously projected that water rates alone would rise to $88 a month by 2030 in part to pay for the Lake Michigan project. While the threefold increase has attracted notice, the city also projects that Joliet water rates will be in the mid-range of the area norm because of a general upward trend in the cost of water.

The forecast has not been updated since the $88 projection was set in 2020.

Public Utilities Director Allison Swisher has said new rate projections will reflect higher than expected costs for water main replacements. But the city also has financing for the Lake Michigan project that makes it possible to defer payments.

“We’re able to to extend the development cost farther into the future so it doesn’t affect the costs as much in recent years,” Swisher said.

Any rate increases will have to go to the City Council for approval.

The City Council in past years has approved new water and sewer rate schedules by November. Rates for 2023 have not yet been set.

Burns & McDonnell is the same firm the city used to recommend the schedule for water and sewer rates that extended into 2022.

The City Council last week also approved a $650,000 contract with Burns & McDonnell to serve as an independent review firm watching over the Lake Michigan water project. The contract gives Burns & McDonnell oversight of contracting, costs and contractor performance during the course of the project over the next eight years.

The project is estimated to cost more than $800 million based on 2020 dollars. Those costs are spread among six communities since the creation of a regional water commission.

“On a project this size it’s not unusual at all to have a second set of eyes,” Joe Johnson, an engineer with Stantec who is among the consulting team working on the Lake Michigan project, told the City Council Public Service Committee in April when it reviewed the independent review contract.

Patrick Clifford with Burns & McDonnell told the committee that his firm provides similar services across the country and the Joliet project “is probably one of the most iconic water projects going on around the United States.”