MARK KIESLING: Water options for Chicago Heights may be evaporating

2012-10-14T00:00:00Z MARK KIESLING: Water options for Chicago Heights may be evaporating nwitimes.com
October 14, 2012 12:00 am

Not since the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936 has such a federal case been made about water.

Chicago Heights has filed a federal lawsuit to stop Hammond from turning off the faucet that supplies Chicago Heights with Lake Michigan water via the Hammond pumping facility.

Chicago Heights' beef, simply put, is that Hammond wants too much money for its water as the current 30-year contract ends in November.

This could have effects that range far beyond the Heights, which takes some of the water it gets from Hammond and sells it to surrounding communities.

For the record, Calumet City inked a new contract with Hammond in late June. For that same amount Hammond is now asking Chicago Heights to pony up.

Calumet City is not doing this because it wants to make Hammond wealthy at its own expense by paying exorbitant fees for water.

Hammond is not doing this to gouge either of its neighboring Illinois communities. They need to make adjustments and improvements so they can keep the water flowing.

"There's plenty of opportunity in Illinois to sell water," said Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. "If Chicago Heights doesn't want to buy our water, we'll find someone else to take up the capacity."

McDermott's holding the aces in this hand: There are far more buyers than there are suppliers.

Given the time frame and the aging infrastructure of the facility, does it really seem unreasonable for Hammond to raise the price per 1,000 gallons of water from its current level of less than $1 to $2.20?

Particularly given that next-door Chicago just upped its rate to $2.51 per 1,000 gallons, increasing next year to $2.89.

This is purified tap water, stuff a lot of scientists say is just as healthy for you as the bottled stuff you buy off the shelf at your supermarket.

Yeah, try getting that for $2.20 for 1,000 gallons, or $2.89 for that matter. Get back to me on your success, OK?

"It would be a public health catastrophe," said Chicago Heights corporation counsel TJ Somer.

Although the contract expires next month, McDermott is giving Chicago Heights until March before it turns the tap off.

"Unjust and unreasonable," says the Chicago Heights filing in federal court.

I am not a lawyer, but I do drink water.

And my guess is that the Heights is going to have a hard time making the case based on what Hammond's chief competitor — Chicago — is charging.

And the fact that the supply is limited to those few communities that actually pump, purify and sell their own lake water.

Chicago Heights has until March to come up with an alternative plan.

Right now, it might want to get a price on the supermarket water.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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