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HB4496: A World Water Day miracle!

Update, March 28, 2012: The Illinois House approved HB 4496 by a vote of 100 to 14.

Today is World Water Day, and beyond being a day to attend one of many water-themed conferences or install a faucet aerator (both good things to do), it's an occasion to reflect on the future direction of water, stormwater and wastewater management, and where they fit into the sustained economic productivity and environmental integrity of our communities and region. 

Personally, I'm really excited by a little piece of news about Ill. House Bill 4496. Sponsored by Rep. Carol Sente (D-Lincolnshire), HB4496 establishes a timeline for the Ill. Dept. of Public Health to update the Illinois Plumbing Code to be more consistent with the leading technologies and methods that more efficiently utilize natural resources and protect public health. Late yesterday it was assigned to the Business & Occupational Licenses Committee, and scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, March 27, at 8:30 a.m., Capitol Building, Room 115.

Kudos to Rep. Sente for moving the bill this far, but now she needs help to demonstrate to other Illinois lawmakers that a base of support exists for modernizing the Illinois Plumbing Code. So let them know, starting with your Representative and the members of the Business & Occupational Licenses Committee

When you have a chance to read the language, you will see that the bill itself is not specific about what in the code will be modernized, it merely begins the update process and more importantly, outlines when the process should be complete. However it is through this process that we can develop minimum safety standards for graywater reuse, rainwater harvesting for reuse, sub-metering in new multi-unit buildings, and a wide array of improved efficiency standards. There will be ample opportunity for all of us to weigh in on details once the process actually starts ... so we need to start.

If you've followed MPC's work over the past few years, you know that we've been down a similar path before, though with a narrower scope. In past years we focused on updating the Illinois Plumbing Code to allow for rainwater harvesting for non-potable reuse, such as flushing toilets. That's certainly still on the menu for this broader update, and for good reason. Entities like the City of Chicago have the capacity to negotiate variances from the state code for installation of rainwater harvesting systems in new buildings such as the 41st St. beach house, but individual property owners often do not. By updating the code to include minimum safety standards that would be in affect statewide, any certified plumber with the right training would be able to install these systems, just like they put in a toilet.

This year, however, rather than limit ourselves to adding language on rainwater harvesting, Rep. Sente, MPC, and partners like Openlands and the Natural Resources Defense Council, opted to push for a much more comprehensive update. If we're going to open up the hood, we might as well fix the whole engine. HB4496 establishes a timeline for that update to take place, and we're eager to see the process start. This is real change that will have real impacts on water resources management in Illinois. Through these codes changes we can save a lot of potable water through efficiency improvements, spur innovation in water reuse, and reduce strain on our aging water infrastructure. Sounds pretty good to me.

So contact your representative and stay tuned. I'll be in Springfield on Tuesday to testify, and will keep everyone posted on how it goes. Happy World Water Day indeed.

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The Connector is MPC's blog, written primarily by MPC staff members, with occasional guest posts from volunteers and partners. 

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