Water conflicts continue to develop in the Joliet area.
A small but vocal group of protesters gathered on the steps of Joliet city hall on Monday night to rail against Mayor Robert O’Dekirk’s controversial plan to solve a looming water crisis by tripling rates on homes throughout the area…The protesters, which included Joliet City Councilman Cesar Guerrero, called for a “graduated water tax” that will shift a bigger share of the financial burden onto the companies that use the most water…Amazon has become a flashpoint in the controversy because of its rapid expansion of warehouses, the growing traffic congestion across the region, and the millions in public incentives and tax abatements the company has received to bring 3,500 jobs to Joliet.“Joliet residents protest plan to hike water rates,” Better Government Association, 11/16/2021.
Joliet, with its groundwater supply dwindling, is spearheading an effort to buy Lake Michigan water from Chicago. The plan includes recruitment of new water customers, including neighboring suburbs and industrial users, to help cover the cost of a billion-dollar infrastructure.
Continued conflict and uncertainty over these plans could have industrial customers looking for alternative locations. That’s why I’m doubling down on a hypothesis that DeKalb’s “Project Barb” is probably Amazon. This fits into a larger theory that name brands’ sudden attraction to us shouldn’t be attributed to the genius of local politicians so much as commercial lust over our voluptuous bodies of water.
Amazon — and any company concerned with keeping tabs on water supply as aquifers run dry — must know that Facebook made a great deal with the city as part of the development agreements. For example, Facebook won’t face a graduated water tax as some in Joliet are calling for.
The water agreement
Part of the development agreement between City of DeKalb and Facebook involves an agreement about how much water DeKalb must have on hand for Facebook to hold dibs on. There are water capacity reservations made for temporary construction water, water to put out fires, and for each tier of the project. Reservations also specify delivery at a certain maximum (“peak”) flow rate and at a specified pressure in pounds per square inch (PSI). The below exhibit shows these rates, and also the current daily and monthly reservations for each tier classification.water-res-2020-120-oct-amend
Besides guaranteeing the lowest water rate available, the agreement prioritizes Facebook over residential water customers in times of shortage, allows the company to drill wells if it wants, and bars the city from sharing information about Facebook’s actual or projected water consumption by classifying it as confidential business information.
That darn scrivener
The reservation capacity chart above is not original to the development agreement signed in April 2020, but was signed as an amendment in October 2020 to correct “scrivener’s errors,” with “scrivener” doing a lot of heavy lifting in that statement. Scrivener’s errors are typos or misspelled words, whereas the new chart expands peak daily volume by 200,000 to 600,000 gallons per tier and doubles each monthly volume. Scrivener’s errors are also generally apparent to most readers, but obviously in this case, the numbers don’t mean much to most and require expert vetting.
Several individuals participating in hearings and other public meetings to discuss the Facebook development agreement reassured the audience that DeKalb has the capacity to supply the water volumes required by the agreement, but the maximums specified in the original agreement were half that of the current one.
What would these people say about the new figures? At the time of the amendment, no one asked, because the matter was treated as a minor issue, a couple of typos, from the get-go.
Wells in the southwest Chicago suburbs, especially the Joliet area, are expected to start running dry as soon as 2030 if they can’t put a solution in place in time. Do I think they will succeed? Yes, I do. But at this point it looks like every step of the way will be a slog through lawsuits and unrest. This could affect these suburbs’ ability to recruit new industry, and their losses could result in DeKalb’s gain in jobs and tax revenues.
One of our most important roles in these developments is to pay closer attention to city government. Whether the reason was design or incompetence, the “scrivener’s errors” should never have happened and are a reason for distrust. Prioritizing industry over residents, even in hypotheticals, is a source of unease. And even if we agree the provision of up to 9.6 million gallons per month in water delivery is no big deal, it doesn’t tell us what volume would be worrisome if we become a hot property to additional water-intensive industries.
Finally, never forget: If it hadn’t been for a group of citizens who fought for us in court 25 years ago, DeKalb might still be feeding us radium water.
— DeKalb’s water agreement with Facebook. The original capacity reservation chart is on the last page, in case you want to compare it with the amendment presented earlier in the post:Original-Water-Agreement-with-Facebook
— Discussion of Illinois’ water laws and the case law that got us here. The document is 32 pages. If that puts you in tl:dr territory, Chapter 6 beginning on page 24 of the PDF gives a helpful summary of the laws’ principles and guidelines in just over 3 pages:IllinoisGroundwaterLaw
— Link to City of DeKalb’s 2021 water quality report, which includes pumpage stats, storage capacity, and other details that aid in providing context.