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Volo mayor wants to tap Lake Michigan for water
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff

Volo Mayor Burnell Russell believes bringing Lake Michigan water to his village is an important key to its future.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Lake Michigan water would be especially important to future new home construction expected in Volo, Mayor Burnell Russell said.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/19/2010 12:01 AM

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Volo is one of the smallest towns in Lake County, but village officials say it has big potential.

And, a key to that future growth may be in 57 miles of pipes connecting the town to Lake Michigan.

Mayor Burnell Russell said having Lake Michigan water - rather than tapping into untreated water in underground aquifers - would enable the village to better provide clean water to the expected more than 11,000 new residents planners believe will move into Volo in the next 20 years.

It would also mean the village could stop paying to drill deep wells and to remove radium found in that water.

"This would be one of the best things to happen to us," Russell said. "At first, I was against it, but after reviewing all the options, my opinion changed. Now, I think Lake Michigan water would really be a big benefit for Volo and Lake County."

But, whether Volo and eight other communities and unincorporated Lake County - making up the Northern Lake County Lake Michigan Water Planning Group - get to tap that water supply is on hold pending a decision from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"The towns and the county have put on a very substantial argument supporting the need for using Lake Michigan water," said Bill Balling, spokesman for the planning group. "But, right now, we are in a holding pattern with the office of water resources at the IDNR. But, the plan is very much alive."

The group made its request to IDNR back in January and expected to receive a ruling by July. However, the IDNR decision has been delayed for the third time in three months, said Januari Smith, an agency spokeswoman. It's unclear when it will be made, she added.

At issue, Balling said, is the amount of water communities are allowed to pull from Lake Michigan.

Balling said communities are allowed to take 3,200 gallons of water per second from the lake for use as municipal water.

Currently, 97 percent of that amount is used by the city of Chicago and other area suburbs. If this newest Lake County consortium taps into Lake Michigan, only 1.5 percent of the remaining allocation would be available for other communities in the future, Balling said.

In addition, bringing Lake Michigan water to north and western Lake County will be no small - or cheap - endeavor.

If the project is approved, construction is expected to take four years to complete starting in late 2011 or early 2012, Balling said. The total cost of running the 57 miles of pipe from the water tap at the Lake County Public Water District in Zion could be up to $252 million.

That cost will be funded with the sale of building bonds to be paid off by the towns and residents of Lake County through their water bills, officials said. The cost to the owner of a $300,000 home could be an additional $400 a year in water bills.

The cost of the pipeline and, specifically, the cost to residents was the reason Long Grove residents overwhelmingly rejected a 2009 advisory referendum about receiving Lake Michigan water. Voters shot down the proposal by a 1,629 to 224 margin.

However, planning for the pipeline continues in several other towns.

To get the ball rolling, Balling said, consortium members were each asked to stake $50,000 for the startup costs of planning, researching, legal issues and engineering.

Lindenhurst, Lake County and Volo have agreed, but Antioch, Fox Lake, Lake Villa, Wauconda, Lake Zurich, Hawthorn Woods and Old Mill Creek have not yet decided.

Balling said those towns are waiting for a decision from the IDNR and weighing cost considerations.

"They are waiting to see if the IDNR approves the allocation for the north and west Lake County consortium," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that. We'll just keep moving forward until we get an answer."

But the project has at least one strong supporter in Volo's Russell.

In addition to the advantages for his town, Russell said Lake Michigan water is cleaner, more plentiful, and is not reliant on unreplenishable deep water aquifers.

"It's an important debate, but that water really is the best solution for everyone at this point," he said.

In Volo, should the village grow from the current population of 1,600 to 13,000 residents in the next 20 years as projected, the town would need to drill "a lot more water wells" than the five it has now, he said.

And, that Lake Michigan water could also help spur what has seemed to be sagging development along seven miles of Route 12. However, Russell said he believes the commercial businesses will come "on their own" regardless of Lake Michigan water.

A decision must be made in the next year or two about a new deep well for the southern part of Volo to accommodate residential growth, Russell said. That project will cost the village about $1 million.

And, officials must also address radium deposits under portions of Volo. The village pays about $150,000 annually to remove radium from the water and truck it to Wisconsin four times a month for proper disposal.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element present in varying amounts in rock and soil, with small amounts found in groundwater supplies. Medical studies show if radium is not removed from groundwater, it could cause cancer, or problems with immune systems.

As Volo continues to grow, the village board has some tough decisions ahead, he said.

"Getting Lake Michigan water here would solve a lot of problems," Russell said.