DeKalb taps into water trends


First of a series.

The Better Government Association recently published an article about Joliet’s ambitious and controversial mayor, who plans to buy Lake Michigan water from Chicago.

[Water scarcity] tensions have arrived in northeastern Illinois, which, despite its proximity to the world’s fourth-largest source of fresh water, faces a coming water crisis.

Among the first battlegrounds are Chicago’s southwest suburbs, which have been reliably served for 150 years by underground sandstone aquifers that soon won’t be able to keep up with forecasted demand.

The loss of the aquifers — which comes as water bills are already rising and climate change accelerates — will leave many Chicago suburbs with the added expense of finding alternative sources to survive.

BGA: “Pipeline to Chicago could make Joliet mayor the new suburban water czar”

Joliet has about a decade to solve the problem. The idea is to find alternatives to pumping its aquifer dry and to conserve what’s left in the aquifer for emergencies. Its mayor wants to fund the infrastructure for piping surface water by reselling the lake water to neighboring communities and by recruiting new customers in the form of large industrial users of water — a scheme that has landed the city in court, so who knows how this will turn out.

But if you were a large industrial water user, why not just go up the road to DeKalb, which is also a logistics-friendly community and currently faces neither imminent threat to its groundwater supply nor court fights about it? That’s what Ferrara and Facebook did. The city reported last December installation of a 16-inch water main to serve the developments, and Facebook’s water agreement with the city specifies the temporary provision of up to 200,000 gallons per day for construction through the final build-out. The 200,000-gallon capacity reservation will ramp up post-construction to amounts that depend on the tier classification of the data center, but will at least double, according to the agreement (which we will look at in a separate post).

DeKalb’s guarantee to provide so many gallons a day does not mean Facebook will consume at peak capacity every day, or ever. Nevertheless, attracting water-intensive industries seems likely to become profitable. If so, will city leadership be able to hear over the cha-ching to consider the long-term health of our groundwater supply?

I am also concerned about further abuse of the Water Operations Fund since it is already subject to deceptive budget practices. This fund will be the topic of the next post in the series.