Tribune Studies Chicago Area Water Rates

The October 29th edition of the Chicago Tribune contained an in depth article about water rates in the Chicago area. 162 municipalities were surveyed. The City of Northlake’s water rates fell in the middle of the pack with 74 towns having lower rates and 87 towns having higher rates.

The survey also listed rates of water loss (due to leaks, fires, hydrant flushing, all of which were not metered) and Northlake’s rate of loss was 4%, well below the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources recommendation of 12%. Some towns in the survey had loss rates of more than 30%, which means those towns are paying for almost a third of their water that no one is using, so that cost is figured into the final water rate.

According to the article, there are several factors which lead to high water rates:

  1. Mismanagement, which could entail non-collection, theft or other factors;
  2. Loss through leaks in the system – some towns have loss rates of more than 30%;
  3. Lack of sufficient alternate sources of revenue which leads to funding of municipal services through higher water roles;
  4. Improvements to the water system paid for through higher user fees.

When compared to other utilities, water rates, for the most part are still low. This is due to a variety of reasons, one being, to keep the rates low by not improving the system and kicking the can down the road. This is not a good practice as the problems with the water distribution system keep compounding and someone down the line will be stuck with a huge expense.

We are fortunate that Northlake has sufficient resources to maintain city sewers without having to use water revenues to support other areas of City government. Our water rates fall in the middle of the pack because we take a balanced approach, using the fees to maintain and upgrade the system, and not keeping them artificially low at the expense of long term maintenance. We are also fortunate that Northlake has other sources of revenue to pay for long term capital improvements such as water main replacement so that cost does not need to be factored into the water rates.

I believe the steady course we have been on is the best course of action – we are not the highest, nor the lowest, but right in the middle. Continuous upgrades to the system are preferable to neglect, which would result in a catastrophic expense dow th line.

If you would like to view the article, go to “Same Lake, Unequal Rates” – Chicago Tribute, October 25, 2017.

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