As anyone who has had to pay a water bill in recent years knows, water’s getting expensive. In Brookfield alone, water customers have seen their rates jump from $5.93 per 1,000 gallons in 2010 to $9.31 per 1,000 gallons in 2014. 

That’s an increase of 57 percent in four years.

But Brookfield, North Riverside, Lyons and LaGrange Park homeowners and business owners may see another hike — unrelated to the cost of water — in the future, if the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission moves ahead with a proposal to construct a 3.5-mile water line to supplement the main feed from the city that already exists.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $30 million.

“It’s something we see as a need,” said Mark Lucas, who is the village of Brookfield’s representative on the water commission, which also has individual representatives from North Riverside and Cook County. “But we need to line this up with funding and partners. Everyone is looking at costs right now.”

According to a memo provided to members of the Brookfield village board on Feb. 24, the supplemental water line would serve “as an emergency supply for peak demand periods for any one of the partners should any of their separate original water supplies need repair, rehabilitation or replacement, as it would be unlikely that all partners would have the issue simultaneously.”

Lucas said the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission is in talks with Forest Park and the Broadview-Westchester Joint Water Agency to form a partnership and split the costs of the new supplemental line. The split wouldn’t be even, said Lucas, but based on usage. 

Customers of the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission, which supplies water to Brookfield Zoo, would be responsible for about 48 percent of the total cost, according to Lucas.

Since the water commission is a governmental body that cannot levy taxes, any expense would have to be supported through the imposition of a fee to customers. The Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission estimates its share of the cost will be about $14 million.

The project would be funded by a low-interest loan through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and repaid over 20 years by imposing on Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission customers a 5 cent-per-1,000-gallon surcharge for 10 consecutive years (a 50-cent surcharge in all). The surcharge would then remain in place until the debt was paid off.

The money would go toward constructing the pipeline, property acquisition and the construction of a reservoir and pumping facility capable of supplying water through the line during emergencies.

Why does the commission need a supplemental water line? Because, according to Lucas, the sole water feed to the commission’s facility is 76 years old. According the commission’s superintendent, Robert Novotny, the main’s normal life expectancy is 75 years.

“If we get the new line, we can split the flow and extend the life of the line we have,” said Novotny, adding that the original main line was constructed of an asbestos-cement product developed by the Johns-Manville Corporation in 1929 called Transite.

In addition to being brittle, Transite can handle the kind of water pressure that modern water pipes can. 

While the commission built a supplemental feed in 1987 from Forest Park, that line is not sufficient to supply the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission with peak summertime flow should the main line fail for any significant period of time.

The main feed runs west from the city of Chicago through Cicero, Stickney, Lyons and Riverside and crosses beneath the Des Plaines River three times. 

“If we lose a river crossing, it could shut us down for weeks,” said Novotny.

The Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission has been trying to generate interest in building the new supplemental line since 2005.

While there have been no agreements signed and the proposal is still somewhat preliminary, the IEPA loan program has prompted the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission to really push for the supplemental line.

“We’re trying to push it forward a little quicker now because of the low-interest loan,” said Novotny. “As soon as we can tie that up, the better off we are.”