Evanston backs water rate hike request
Flagger Rebecca Rios of Evanston directs traffic on Dodge Avenue in Evanston while laborers pour concrete in the final stages of a water main replacement and street resurfacing project on Dodge Avenue between Dempster and Lake streets on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:21AM
EVANSTON — When water gushed from leaking water mains on Central Street last summer, Utilities Director Dave Stoneback already had the area marked as a priority for repair in 2013.
An initial main break at 3131 Central St. turned into what was described as a “daisy chain” of leaks to the aging system, resulting in water cutoffs to residents, one lasting nearly two hours.
Those episodes were in distant view, though, at the City Council’s Nov. 26 meeting, where officials proposed a 3 percent water rate increase.
Some aldermen raised concern about the impact of the hike, which the council officially adopted Monday night.
At ward meetings, “one of the biggest complaints I have is for water bills,’’ said Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes. “They (constituents) forget there are other things on the water bill and they (the water bills) get blamed for them all.”
With the increase, the average single-family home consumer will be paying approximately $6 more a year, officials estimated.
Officials are aware of residents’ confusion about the information on water bills, which includes sewer charges and refuse pickups costs combined in the rate highlighted on the bill.
The city is working to change the bill to put it in a more understandable form, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen.
Meanwhile, officials say the water rate increase is needed to manage the amount of bonds sold to finance proposed capital improvement projects.
Officials proposed a stepped-up water main replacement program last year, pointing to aging problems, fire-flow demands and maintenance problems associated with the existing system.
Their plans call for replacing about 1.5 miles of water main each year. Of the 157 miles of water main in the city, 91.1 miles (58.2 percent) of the mains in the system are more than 80 years old, officials pointed out in a report. Replacing 1.5 miles of water main is equivalent to replacing 1/100th of the system, Stoneback noted previously.
The plan is not dissimilar to a move by a different City Council, in 1991, which bit the bullet and backed a roughly $170 million plan stretched out over nearly 20 years to improve the city’s aging sewer system. Before that program, with “almost every rain event somewhere in Evanston they had sewage water in their basement,” said Stoneback.
Since the improvements, said Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, “that pretty much doesn’t happen anymore.”
Officials have taken pains to stress that Evanston maintains competitive water rates compared to most other metro communities.
A 3 percent rate increase would raise the rate to $1.80 per 100 cubic feet or $2.41 per 1,000 gallons, officials said.
Chicago, which supplies a number of suburban communities with water, charges $2.51 per 1,000 gallons, and that rate is scheduled to increase to $2.89 per 1,000 gallons as of Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, the DuPage Water Commission charges $2.99 per 1,000 gallons, officials noted.
They also tried to quash the notion that Evanston residents pay more for their water than those in other communities, to which the city sells water.
For instance, Evanston provides water at wholesale rates to Skokie, officials said, at a rate of $0.9781 per 1,000 gallons.
In turn, though, the village charges their residents $4.35 per 1,000 gallons.
In addition, Northwest Water Commission communities, such as Arlington Heights, which buy water at wholesale rates from Evanston, tack on.
Said city officials, diplomatically: “Each organization increases the charge to their customers, above the wholesale water rate, to have sufficient funds for their capital improvement and operation/maintenance costs associated with their water distribution system.”