What Our Water's Worth is a campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Programs in Chicago and the suburbs help property owners save water, energy, money and the environment

Dan Swick demonstrates proper use of a rain barrel at a Chicago Sustainable Backyards workshop at the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Photo Credit: Chicago Center for Green Technology

By Abby Crisostomo and Erin McMillan

Too often, heavy rains conjure flooded basements, murky pools of water mucking up neighborhood streets, damaged property – and hefty price tags for residents, business owners, and municipalities that have to clean up the mess. It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of rain being a nuisance, we can turn it into the free resource it should be by changing our built environment in large and small ways. Property owners in Chicago and its suburbs have support to help them do just that, thanks to a couple of unique, local organizations on a mission to help people not only weather the storms in their own backyards, but then do something productive with all that water.

In the City of Chicago, Sarah Abu-Absi manages the Sustainable Backyards Program, part of the city’s Dept. of Transportation and established by Chicago’s 2003 Water Agenda, which called attention to our need for water conservation and preservation. Chicago’s Sustainable Backyards Program provides residents with knowledge and incentives to help them create more environmentally friendly landscapes in their own yards. Signature initiatives include free educational workshops and a rebate program that offers up to 50 percent off local purchases of specific trees, native plants, rain barrels, and compost bins (helpful for providing nutrients for your new trees and native plants.)

In the suburbs, another Sarah – this time Sarah Surroz – runs the Conservation@Home program, managed in Lake County by Conserve Lake County and in Kane, Kendall, DuPage and Will counties by The Conservation Foundation. Conservation@Home is a public outreach program focused on both commercial and residential properties that promotes sustainable landscapes, water conservation, clean soil, and rich ecosystems.

Read on to learn how these local programs can help city and suburban residents and business owners save money, water, energy and the environment.

Conservation Tips

  • Go to the store! Buy a rain barrel, native plants, and trees, all of which qualify for rebates from the City of Chicago.
  • Go online! Rain barrels are an effective tool when used correctly. Watch this YouTube video to learn how to best use your rain barrel.
  • Use it or lose it. A few days after it rains, be sure to use the water in your barrel so it will be empty the next time it rains. A barrel with no available storage capacity is no help!

June 2012

Illinois American Water (lead sponsor)

Upcoming events

Jun 12 Summer public workshop for the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor grant program 7:00 PM–9:00 PM
Jul 25 Annual Luncheon: The Cities That Work 12:00 PM–2:00 PM
Sep 11 Fall public workshop for the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor grant program 7:00 PM–9:00 PM

More events »

The WOWW Factor

650 gallons

The storage capacity of a “fat boy” water wall, an evolution in rain barrel technology. Standard rain barrels hold 55 gallons.

4,000 gallons

The amount of rainwater intercepted by a mature evergreen tree in a year.

1,122 gallons

The amount of rain that falls during a 1-inch storm on a modestly sized single-family home.

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