Illinois water management plan gets boost from Midwest and international experts, local water stakeholders - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Illinois water management plan gets boost from Midwest and international experts, local water stakeholders

"Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers" helps move Illinois closer to developing a statewide system for managing its water resources

(Chicago)… As communities across Illinois struggle to address a wide range of water-related issues, from preventing floods to staving off water shortages forecast for 11 townships in northeastern Illinois alone by 2020, regional and state leaders are working to develop the state’s first plan for managing its limited water supply. To shape recommendations for the plan, some 200 water management experts and professionals attended a conference in Chicago on May 16.

Throughout the day, conference-goers grappled with a dilemma familiar to states across the country, but perplexing to a state that borders the Great Lakes: demand for water is growing in Illinois, but supply is not. The population in northeastern Illinois is projected to increase by 2.2 million by 2050. Much of that growth is expected in communities in the outlying parts of our region that no longer can expect to tap into Lake Michigan water.

“Developing a water supply management plan for a relatively water-rich state like Illinois is challenging but not impossible,” said Joyce O’Keefe, deputy director of Openlands. “The timing is perfect. The Great Lakes Compact requires the state to pass a conservation plan, with specific conservation goals and implementation steps. Conservation measures like reducing leakage in public water distribution systems, metering and conservation pricing, and wastewater reuse are the heart of any effective statewide plan.”

To ensure Illinois can meet the water demand of a growing population--as well as thirsty industrial and agricultural uses, including, potentially, substantially increased ethanol production from corn or other crops--a 2006 executive order called for the creation of a statewide framework for water supply planning and launched two regional water supply planning initiatives in northeastern and central Illinois .

Despite progress made by the regional pilot groups, Illinois still has more questions than answers when it comes to its water future. At the conference, “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers: Water Governance Solutions for Illinois,” sponsored by Openlands, Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, presentations and discussion focused on identifying water management policies that balance residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs.

“Illinois’ future economic and population growth absolutely hinge on a safe, reliable supply of water for public, commercial, agricultural and industrial use, while also supporting functioning ecosystems,” said Josh Ellis, associate, Metropolitan Planning Council. “ Feedback from attendees will help shape a plan for managing Illinois’ water and integrating those concerns into regional growth and development plans. Illinois has heavily urbanized and heavily agricultural regions, so we need a plan that enables sustainable water use for both.”

In the morning, attendees heard from internationally and locally recognized water experts and learned what other Great Lakes states, including Minnesota and Ohio, are doing to balance the need to preserve water quality and quantity with the need to grow and develop. Speakers included Peter Gleick, president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security; Mary Ann Dickinson, executive director, Alliance for Water Efficiency; Samuel W. Speck, former director, Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, former chair, Great Lakes Commission, and chair, Water Management Working Group of the Council of Great Lakes Governors; Gary Clark, director, Ill. Office of Water Resources, Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources; Bonnie Thomson Carter, chair, Regional Water Supply Planning Group of Northeastern Illinois; Brent O’Neill, chair, East Central Illinois Water Supply Planning Committee; Otto Doering, professor, Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University; and Kent Lokkesmoe, director, Division of Water, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources.

After lunch, conference attendees reviewed a white paper outlining possible courses of action as Illinois moves toward a statewide framework for regional water supply planning. Jack Wittman, president of Wittman Hydro Planning Associates, Inc., and a nationally recognized watershed hydrologist and groundwater scientist, authored and presented the paper.

“The intent of the white paper is to outline what an effective system includes and then provide some ideas on how get from here to there,” said Wittman. “This isn’t an assessment of effective planning in Illinois , this is an assessment of effective planning, and I would hope it could serve as a template in other states throughout the country, but particularly in the Great Lakes region.”

The white paper will be posted on an online discussion forum . Users of the forum will be invited to make comments on the paper, and those comments will also help inform the final recommendations.

Over the next year, the two regional water supply planning groups will be reconciling the amount of water that will be needed in the future with how much water will be available. Their goal is to approve final plans by the end of June 2009. Input from the conference, interested stakeholders, and the public at-large will be critical to the development of effective regional plans, as well as the statewide framework to integrate those plans and determine the most sensible roles and responsibilities for state, regional, and local bodies of government.

For more information, contact Mandy Burrell Booth, Metropolitan Planning Council, at 312-863-6018, or mburrell@metroplanning.org ; or Chuck Mutscheller, Openlands, at 312-863-6260, or cmutscheller@openlands.org .

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