Water, Water Everywhere? DuPage Water Commission leads efforts to better manage Lake Michigan water

DuPage Water Commission’s Water Conservation and Protection Program is saving energy and money by conserving water. Image courtesy of DuPage Water Commission, http://www.preservingeverydrop.org.

DuPage Water Commission’s Water Conservation and Protection Program is saving energy and money by conserving water. Image courtesy of DuPage Water Commission, http://www.preservingeverydrop.org.

By Marcella Bondie, LEED AP

Standing on Lake Michigan’s beaches, it’s easy to think that we—those of us lucky enough to live within piping distance of a Great Lake—have an endless supply of water. However, as I discovered on May 29, at the first of the DuPage Water Commission’s four workshop series, Utility Planning and Asset Management, careful water management is needed even in communities that receive Lake Michigan water.

Hosted by the DuPage Water Commission, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and MWH Global, this series of workshops targets conservation coordinators and municipal leaders from around DuPage County with the why and how of sustainable water management.

The DuPage Water Commission purchases Lake Michigan water from the City of Chicago and distributes it to just under 30 customers.

The DuPage Water Commission purchases Lake Michigan water from the City of Chicago and distributes it to just under 30 customers.

At the first event, I learned from the Illinois State Water Survey’s Scott Meyer that Illinois is legally limited in the amount of water it can withdraw from Lake Michigan. Illinois is limited to an average of 3,200 cubic feet per second (cfs). This is approximately 2,068 million gallons per day (MGD). This allocation is used for household and commercial potable water, or diverted to tributary rivers to improve water quality and navigation depth. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also takes a stormwater runoff deduction out of Illinois’ allocation. This deduction is an estimated amount of stormwater that, because of the historic reversal of the Chicago River toward the Mississippi River, does not enter Lake Michigan. So far, Illinois is doing okay—but additional Illinois communities could request lake water in the future, or new businesses locating to the region could require more. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Water 2050 regional water supply plan, the demand for water may increase by as much as 64 percent by 2050.

So why is it so difficult for people to recognize the value of the water supply and invest in water infrastructure? Margaret Schneemann, a resource economist with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, pointed out water’s “invisibility.” Water supply lines are buried underground and pumping stations are usually nondescript, tucked-away buildings. It’s easy to forget that a kitchen sink is connected to a huge network of pipes, pumps and treatment facilities. When people pay their monthly water bill (if they pay one at all), they often don’t realize they’re paying for more than just water—they’re also paying for the water service. Unfortunately, when water utility rates don’t reflect the full cost of operating a water utility, this infrastructure can’t be properly maintained, leading to an aging system, expensive emergency repairs and leaky pipes that lose water (and all the costs that went into producing the water).

Treating and pumping water requires energy, so every wasted gallon of water is also wasted energy. And producing energy requires water. According to Karl Johnson at MWH Global, the energy industry is responsible for 49 percent of all water withdrawals in the U.S.—more than any other sector. This means that well-managed water utilities not only reduce their own water and energy loss, but also conserve more energy and water “upstream” at the power plant.

To illustrate water management on a municipal scale, MPC Program Director Josh Ellis presented a case study of integrated planning in Lake Zurich, Illinois. Integrated resource planning considers the relationships between water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and water quality to sustainably plan for a community’s longterm water needs. Through a process of data collection, community meetings and stakeholder interviews, MPC helped Lake Zurich define specific water management goals that aligned with the municipality’s existing strategic plan.

The workshop concluded with a discussion of practical solutions for water utilities. John Wiemhoff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated free online tools to help water utilities assess energy usage and manage assets. Strong communication with consumers is also needed. Hillary Holmes at MWH Global noted that when one Illinois municipality completed a major water system renovation, they celebrated with a grand opening of a pumping station—complete with balloons and sections of riddled pipe. Fun, creative ideas like these can help residents be more supportive of water utility rates that match the cost of providing clean water.

The DuPage Water Commission, in collaboration with MPC, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and MWH Global, will host three more water management workshops this summer. Future workshops will focus on water regulations and ordinances, indoor and outdoor water use and water rates and revenue. The half-day workshops are free and open to all public works employees, and count for 3.25 Renewal Training Credits through Illinois EPA. For more information, contact MPC Associate Abby Crisostomo at MPC.

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Green Infrastructure in the Emerald City

By Alex Murray

This is the first of a series of blog posts written by students from the University of Chicago Environment Agriculture & Food Working Group as part of MPC’s research project on stormwater incentive programs.

“Does it really rain that much?” is reliably the first question I get when I tell someone I’m from Seattle. It’s no surprise that, given its reputation, Seattle is on the leading edge of stormwater management. Seattle’s push for green infrastructure solutions to stormwater began two decades ago, driven by the mandates of the Clean Water Act and concerns for the health of the endangered salmon population.

In 2001, Seattle set a national precedent with its Street Edge Alternatives program for the installation of green stormwater infrastructure in public. The combination of sloping bioswales (to filter out harsh pollutants like motor oil), porous paving and the downhill curvilinear shape of the street (to slow water down and redirect it off the pavement) contributed to an impressive reduction in runoff. The project was not only popular with neighborhood residents for its meandering river-inspired design, but decreased the total volume of stormwater runoff by a remarkable 99 percent.


The original Street Edge Alternatives Street retrofit (2nd Ave NW) (from City of Seattle)

Since then, the city has expanded its efforts to include the RainWise residential incentive program for green stormwater infrastructure installation, targeting corridors with high impact on the local watershed and areas most prone to flooding. This approach aims to increase water quality through better control of combined sewer overflows (much like the ones we experienced here in Chicago a few weeks ago). Through the program, homeowners in the city’s targeted regions can apply for rebates on landscaping retrofits (rain gardens) and rain barrel installation. After site testing and approval, the homeowner signs an agreement to maintain the new green stormwater infrastructure features on their property.

In order to achieve stormwater mitigation to the maximum extent feasible, Seattle has set out to “divide and conquer.” Working with residents and businesses, the city initiated natural drainage system partnerships in sidewalk planters in target neighborhoods. Using public dollars, the city has converted parking lot islands and neighborhood planters to bioswales and rain gardens in order to reduce runoff. In these partnerships, property owners can choose to maintain the gardens directly adjacent to their property, marginally cutting down city maintenance costs. Many homeowners like what they see, and choose to adopt some green infrastructure techniques on their own properties for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

Seattle Public Utilities performs routine maintenance checks on these natural drainage system installations to ensure they continue to operate effectively. These partnerships blur the line between public and private green infrastructure investment, and help the city meet its runoff reduction targets while increasing the visual appeal of the neighborhood.

This year, Seattle renewed its commitment to green infrastructure with an executive order from Mayor Mike McGinn to reduce annual runoff by 700 million gallons (six times the number currently managed by green infrastructure in the city) by the year 2025.

To that end, the city has taken a multifaceted approach in considering how to increase stormwater mitigation over the next decade. The proposed TDR for TIF (Transfer of Development Rights for Tax Increment Financing) program does just that by aligning the city’s stormwater goals with plans for urban density. Developers who wish to build in selected downtown zoning districts can receive a density bonus if they also purchase rural land development credits.  The density bonus allows the developer to build more units per floor, increasing their overall revenue. Developers qualify for this incentive if they choose to purchase the rural land credits within the county (the “transfer of development rights” part of the program).

These land credits ensure that forested land remains undeveloped in the future. The undeveloped forestland is naturally able to absorb rainfall much better than impervious developed land. This aspect of the program helps to ensure that the regional watershed remains protected in the years to come.


Schematic diagram of TDF for TIF Program (King County, WA)

On the urban side, the increased property tax revenue from the density bonus is invested in green infrastructure installation in the selected downtown zoning districts. This is the “tax increment financing” part of the program. Put together, the program as a whole helps to manage stormwater in both urban and rural areas. Through this new program, the city hopes to encourage downtown development while maintaining water quality and mitigating runoff through stormwater-conscious urban development and the preservation of rural land.

Dynamic programs like these have turned Seattle into a sort of stormwater sponge, and will be an integral part of the effort to meet the target the city has set for runoff reduction over the next decade. As both a functional tool for stormwater management and an investment in aesthetic value, green infrastructure has proven its worth to Seattle, rain or shine (but mostly rain).

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Where does the water go?: A visit with the water level wizards at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

Left to Right: Ed Staudacher, Lawrence Mazzocco, Tom Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Ryan Griffin-Stegink

By Abby Crisostomo

CAWS map_MPCWhen it comes to water resources in Chicago, most people think immediately of Lake Michigan. But increasingly, the rivers, creeks, canals and channels that weave throughout the region are getting their day in the sun – from investments in the Chicago Riverwalk to community improvements along the Cal-Sag Channel to talks of re-reversing the river system to combat invasive species. A far cry from the natural streams and wetlands that existed before the city, for the past century these waterways have been a highly managed network – the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) – controlled and manipulated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) with some help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As the regional wastewater and stormwater utility for most of Cook County, MWRD operates the waterways with three goals: to maintain water quality, to manage stormwater and to maintain navigation. They have seven wastewater treatment facilities that treat sewage and return it to the CAWS, which eventually makes its way out to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

A control room screen

One of the control room screens. Photo by Ryan Griffin-Stegink.

To manage such a huge engineering marvel, MWRD needs to keep close tabs on everything that is going on with the CAWS, including the Chicago River, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, North Shore Channel, Cal-Sag Channel and Little Calumet River. That task falls to Ed Staudacher, Supervising Civil Engineer for MWRD, and his two-man crew, Tom Fitzgerald and Lawrence Mazzocco. Ed manages what amounts to a waterways command center at MWRD’s downtown headquarters, where MWRD monitors weather conditions and responds to weather events from a centralized hub. Using weather models and radar, a contracted meteorologist issues weather reports to MWRD staff, who then decide what actions to take to ensure the smooth flow of water through the CAWS.

City Datum plaque

A plaque describing the City Datum. Photo by epc, via Flickr.

The CAWS is not only a waterway, but also a stormwater storage facility. MWRD and the Army Corps of Engineers actively maintain the depth of the CAWS at two feet below the Chicago City Datum (the base elevation at LaSalle & Adams used for surveying purposes). “This level allows vessels to pass freely under bridges and yet stay afloat. It’s not too high, and it’s not too low,” says Ed. When the meteorologist predicts precipitation, Tom and Lawrence, the MWRD system dispatchers, lower the water level in the CAWS by another foot to provide more space for the stormwater, rather than inundating MWRD’s seven reclamation plants or flooding properties.

The MWRD controls the level of the CAWS remotely from the command center through four control structures, or locks—three of which are connected to Lake Michigan and the fourth in Lockport. Since the level of Lake Michigan typically fluctuates between three feet above and three feet below the Chicago City Datum, water flows by gravity from the lake through the CAWS out to the Des Plaines River. To lower the CAWS levels, the gates at Lockport are opened, and water flows downstream.

Lockport lock, 1907

The Lockport powerhouse lock, on August 4, 1907. Photo courtesy of MWRD.

Lowering the CAWS allows for some additional storage capacity, but sometimes the amount of precipitation exceeds the amount that the CAWS and MWRD’s treatment facilities can handle, as with the severe rain storms the region experienced in April. Since the 1970s, MWRD has been working on adding more storage through the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), a massive system consisting of deep tunnels and three large reservoirs to hold water until water treatment facilities can handle it. Though the tunnels have been completed, the reservoirs will not be finished until 2029. When the full system is complete, it will hold 17 billion gallons of water.

TARP status map

A map of the current status of the TARP system. Map courtesy of MWRD.

But even completion of TARP won’t be able to handle the more than five inches of rain that fell on already saturated ground in April, which amounted to roughly 70 billion gallons of rain. Older communities, like Chicago, have combined sewer systems, which direct both wastewater and stormwater into the same pipes to be treated by MWRD. Many of these pipes are decades old and not built to handle the current amount of water swept into them due to vast amounts of impervious surfaces and storms of increasing frequency and intensity. When the treatment facilities, the CAWS, TARP and local sewer lines are full, the water has to go somewhere. Generally, the stormwater-wastewater mix either backs up into basements or MWRD must release the water through combined sewer overflows back into the CAWS or Lake Michigan through 36 outfall locations. The outfall pipes have flap gates that are connected to alarms at the command center, which MWRD can monitor and post in real time online.

Unable to rely completely on TARP and other systems, MWRD and many others – including the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) – are looking for solutions to flooding, basement backups and combined sewer overflows. Additional grey infrastructure, like the recently announced MWRD and City of Chicago project to build a tunnel between the Albany Park neighborhood and the North Shore Channel to relieve flooding or infrastructure repairs, are an important but expensive step. MPC is looking into more strategic and cost-effective ways to manage stormwater through a combination of both grey infrastructure and more natural green infrastructure solutions.

Storms aren’t the only reason that MWRD must manage the CAWS water levels, however. Water quality for both wildlife and human health is a big part of it. Ensuring that there’s enough dissolved oxygen in the CAWS to support habitats is an important part of what MWRD does. To keep oxygen levels up, the utility maintains certain water levels and water flows by diverting water from Lake Michigan into the CAWS and with the use of Sidestream Elevated Pool Aeration (SEPA) stations.

Chicago River looking east over the lake

Lake Michigan and the Chicago River play an important role in water supply management. Photo by Abby Crisostomo.

MWRD also manages the CAWS to maintain navigability of the waterways. This again means keeping the water at the appropriate level to allow boats to travel freely, as well as providing water downstream of the CAWS. During the drought of 2012, water levels were low throughout the state, including the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. Some worried that if the drought dropped lake levels too low, that the Chicago River would “re-reverse” and flow back into the lake, but because the CAWS is managed so closely by MWRD, it was an unfounded fear. As Ed explained, MWRD manages the system to keep a six-inch difference between the lake level and the CAWS. The real problem would come if the lake were to drop so low that the flow of the CAWS had to be dropped to a level not sufficient for water quality and navigation.

The creation of the CAWS was a monumental feat that made Chicago what it is today. As a managed, rather than a natural system, however, investments in infrastructure, technology, manpower and research are critical to ensuring that this 100-plus-year-old system continues to serve today’s needs—and meet future demands. Threats from extreme weather, invasive species and aging infrastructure, as well as a renewed interest in developing the CAWS as a community and economic asset, highlight the need to coordinate and plan for a resilient system in the future.

Workers constructing sewer, 1929

Sewer construction, November 7, 1929. Photo courtesy of MWRD.

WOWW Factors


Miles of rivers and canals managed by MWRD along with 32 retention reservoirs


Square miles serviced by MWRD

10.1 million

Population served by MWRD’s wastewater treatment


Miles of TARP

Conservation Tips

Residents can help reduce the risk of flooding by managing rainwater on their own property. For example, residents can store 55 gallons of water in a rain barrel (which can be purchased from the MWRD or at a home improvement store) for later use.

Residents should also minimize water-based activities, like showering, watering the lawn, and washing laundry, up to four hours before, during and after a wet weather event. Any water used during this timeframe flows through the sewer system, which in turn reduces the amount of space available for stormwater.

Contact the agency’s 24 hour hotline (1-800-332-DUMP) (monitored by Staudacher, Fitzgerald and Mazzocco) to report a dump or spill into a sewer or into the CAWS.

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Federal bills propose innovative financing tools for water infrastructure

By Shannon Madden

As the April 18 storm very potently illustrated, water infrastructure across much of northeastern Illinois needs critical attention. And as regions across the nation face challenges associated with decades-old water and sewer systems and limited federal funding for infrastructure repairs, some legislators are proposing creative ways to close the funding gap. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is paying close attention to two proposals in particular: the Water Resources Development Act and the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2013

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit water organization, has long called for the creation of a federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), modeled on the successful Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program that Congress established in 1998. (Read more about TIFIA – including how the Chicago Transit Authority will leverage TIFIA funds to renovate the 95th Street Red Line station – in MPC’s Talking Transit newsletter.)

In spring 2013, two U.S. Senators introduced legislation to establish a TIFIA-like loan program for the water sector. U. S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) co-sponsored the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which was unanimously approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee on March 20.

The Water Resources Development Act would promote investment in water infrastructure and speed up project delivery. For example, by encouraging the Army Corps of Engineers to complete feasibility studies within three years (some have taken longer than 10 years). Eligible projects include flood control, storm damage reduction, and repairing or replacing community water systems, as well as other initiatives that receive funding under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Some groups feel that speeding up the process will result in pressure on agencies to lower their environmental standards, while others argue for more efficiency.

The Act’s most visionary component is the five-year pilot WIFIA provision. If passed, this would authorize the U.S. Treasury to lend $50 million annually over five years directly to large water projects or to state revolving funds, which allow states to provide low-interest loans to water utilities to make infrastructure improvements to comply with federal standards. Typically funded by federal money set aside through appropriations, these state revolving funds also rely on state matching dollars (federal funding granted with a caveat for matching state money) and investments and loan repayments. Governor Quinn recently bolstered Illinois’ State Revolving Fund with the Clean Water Initiative, which provides additional loan funding for water infrastructure investments. The WIFIA program would contribute more federal funding to such state revolving funds, and borrowers would repay loans at long-term U.S. Treasury rates (illustrated in the graphic below, courtesy of AWWA) with considerable savings over current municipal bond rates. WIFIA is a low-risk, low-cost option for the federal government because all WIFIA loans would be repaid to the Treasury with interest, and because of the historically low default rate of both water projects and state revolving fund loans. AWWA’s white paper further explains how WIFIA works and how utilities (and their customers) could save 15 percent on their debt service with a WIFIA loan over a typical municipal bond.

Graphic: How WIFIA Works

Like the current TIFIA program, WIFIA funds would flow from the federal government to water projects and state revolving loan funds, and would be repaid to the U.S. Treasury at Treasury interest rates. This is a low-cost, low-risk way to leverage federal funds for critical water infrastructure investments throughout the country. Graphic courtesy of the American Water Works Association

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the Water Resources Development Act in May 2013. Stay tuned to the Environment and Public Works Committee for updates, oryou can use the Library of Congress website to track the bill’s progress through Congress.

Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act

To address the dual problems of limited federal funding and a $60 billion backlog of Army Corps of Engineers projects, four Illinois legislators are proposing a solution: public-private partnerships. Ill. legislators from both houses and both sides of the aisle – U. S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U. S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) – introduced the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act (WIN P3) to allow private investments in infrastructure repairs.

The proposal would create a pilot program allowing the Corps to partner with private investors on up to 15 water infrastructure projects. Eligible projects would be selected from the Corps’ previously authorized list, and focus on improving navigation on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and protecting residents from flood and storm damage. Projects may include levees, flood control channels and water control structures and locks. Although the WIN P3 bill more narrowly identifies eligible projects than the Water Resources Development Act, both would similarly move water projects forward by leveraging federal dollars with other sources. The WIN P3 bill includes safeguards to facilitate transparency and protect the public, including the requirement that a third party determine whether a proposed partnership will benefit the public and language clarifying that the Act does not authorize the privatization of federal assets.

The Environment and Public Works Committee is currently considering theAct. Tune in to the Library of Congress website to track WIN P3’s progress in the Senate.

As federal appropriations continue to decline, innovative financing tools like WIFIA and public-private partnerships should be encouraged, as long as they include proper safeguards to protect the public interest. Leveraging local funds with federal and private dollars will help our communities invest in critical water infrastructure, and MPC is glad to see our legislators proposing measures to make these investments a reality.

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Interviews reveal that stormwater requirements don’t impede development

By Shannon Madden

If you’ve ever stood on the shores of Lake Zurich, you know how beautiful and clean the water is. And since you’re an avid WOWW reader, you also know that surface water quality is directly related to the stormwater that runs off into lakes and rivers. So as the Village of Lake Zurich plans to redevelop its downtown, you might wonder how the construction associated with a revitalized Main Street will impact the lake.

Luckily, Village leadership is asking the same important question. With technical assistance from the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Village is considering options to protect the lake – beyond Lake County’s Watershed Development Ordinance – while at the same time encouraging redevelopment. Yet sometimes developers and residents wonder if enhanced stormwater requirements end up hindering redevelopment.

That’s the question that ECONorthwest tackled in a recent study, Managing Stormwater in Redevelopment and Greenfield Development Projects Using Green Infrastructure, commissioned by American Rivers and Smart Growth America with support from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, River Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The findings show that clean water and urban redevelopment are compatible,” according to American Rivers’ website. That’s good news for municipalities trying to both attract development and protect their water resources.

Communities like those surrounding Lake Zurich, shown here, will be glad to know that tough stormwater requirements don't deter developers. (Metropolitan Planning Council)

Communities like those around Lake Zurich, shown here, will be glad to know that tough stormwater requirements don’t deter developers. (Metropolitan Planning Council)

Interviews with key public officials and developers in three jurisdictions with strong stormwater regulations – Montgomery Co., Md., Olympia, Wash. and Philadelphia, Pa. – revealed that, in general, stormwater ordinances do not deter investment. Developers reported that they “will continue developing in places that require strong stormwater controls and [low-impact development].”

Developers also said that the costs of meeting stormwater requirements are often less important than other economic considerations, and that the lower cost of green infrastructure (relative to other stormwater controls like detention basins) can actually offset the costs of compliance. Best management practices like native rain gardens and bioswales (engineered slopes with amended soils, native plants and drains to capture excess runoff) may also increase property values. Where market demand exists, properties with best management practices may have greater market appeal than properties without green infrastructure.

Because green infrastructure’s benefits extend to the broader public by beautifying the community and reducing combined sewer overflows, some developers are looking to communities to offset implementation costs. So while the interviews revealed that stormwater requirements don’t discourage investment, additional financial incentives might attract more economic redevelopment in communities like Lake Zurich.  This mutually beneficial relationship can potentially strengthen the local economy while protecting a valued natural resource.

Stay tuned for future green developments as Lake Zurich’s downtown revitalization unfolds!

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May brings four opportunities to learn about proposed changes to Lake Michigan permitting, water loss and resource management

Northeastern Illinois is losing Lake Michigan water, but how much? The “best” available information we have suggests we lose approximately 26 billion gallons of Lake Michigan each year (that’s over one Willis Tower full of water each week) due to leaking infrastructure and poor policies – much of it after being treated to safe drinking water standards at a substantial cost to rate payers. Unfortunately, however, there are significant deficiencies in how we collect that information. Currently, Lake Michigan water users annually report water loss through an outdated accounting system that ignores important information such as infrastructure repairs. These reports do not accurately capture the amount of real water loss, nor do they identify the causes of loss and solutions to prevent it.

That’s why the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is proposing changes to the Lake Michigan Water Allocation program. The changes, many of which MPC calls for in our forthcoming white paper, Immeasurable Loss: Modernizing Lake Michigan Water Use, will improve the information collected about actual water loss and inform policies that require water users to invest in both modern infrastructure and modern water practices. The result? Preserving our precious water supply.

There are several opportunities this May for you to learn more about these proposed changes, ask questions and to share your feedback.

On May 7, MPC will host a roundtable to release our paper Immeasurable Loss: Modernizing Lake Michigan Water Use, which supports IDNR’s proposals and makes further recommendations for more efficient water use. The event will provide up-to-date information on IDNR’s proposals and an opportunity for frank discussion. IDNR’s Chief of the Lake Michigan Management Section, Dan Injerd, will present along with representatives of two Lake Michigan permittees (Village of Westmont Public Works Supervisor Mike Ramsay and Illinois American Water’s Sr. Manager of Field Services Michael Smyth). MPC’s Josh Ellis, program director, will present and moderate the panel.

Next up, IDNR welcomes comments on the proposed rule changes at three public meetings held throughout the region or by email. Public comments are an important part of the rulemaking process, and IDNR encourages you to attend one of the following:

May 14th, 9:30am – Noon

DuPage Water Commission Headquarters

600 East Butterfield Road

Elmhurst, IL  60126

May 15th, 9:30am – Noon

South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association

1904 West 174th St.

East Hazel Crest, IL  60429

May 22nd, 9:30am – Noon

Lake County Central Permit Facility

500 W. Winchester Road

Libertyville, IL  60048

At these meetings, Illinois EPA and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning will also discuss low interest loan programs for water infrastructure repairs and constraints regarding water loss control. Attendees are asked to RSVP to Gina.Thompson@illinois.gov with your choice of location by May 8th and to bring a photo ID to attend the meetings.

We all have a stake in promoting efficient use of Lake Michigan and in strengthening our region’s resiliency. We invite you to learn more – and lend your voice – at these MPC events and IDNR’s public meetings.

For more information about MPC roundtables and to register online, please see http://metroplanning.org/news-events/calendar/.

For more information about IDNR’s proposed rule changes, please see http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/WaterResources/Pages/LakeMichiganWaterAllocation.aspx.

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A Most Effluent Adventure

By Josh Ellis

A couple of weekends ago I skied on sewage and lived to tell the tale…

Up in the western Maine woods the Carrabassett Valley Sanitary District converts sewage into effluent (they call it Snowfluent), and then rather than just dump it in the nearby river (which is what would normally happen), pumps it to the base of Sugarloaf USA, where it is made into artificial snow. Thus a waste product becomes a resource, and conserves nearby surface water and groundwater for other purposes. The snow eventually melts and is naturally filtered as it makes its way downstream. For all intents and purposes, the ski slopes serve as something like a detention pond or a storage lagoon like the one in the photo below.

Is it as nasty as skiing on sewage sounds? Hardly, and that’s because it’s not sewage by the time it hits the slopes. It’s treated water that happens to have recently been sewage. These days we have the technology to take pretty much anything out of sewage that we want… and the staff at Carrabasset Valley must be taking a lot out, because we saw plenty of people wiping out all over the mountain – not us of course – and coming up with facefuls of the stuff. Yes, there was plenty of natural snow on the hill too, so it wasn’t pure Snowfluent. However, on at least one day on the slopes with my father, the snow technicians at Sugarloaf had the snow guns blasting on Hayburner and Skidder, and we both skied right through the spray, leaving frosty traces of Snowfluent on our goggles. Nice… but this has been going for years, and everyone is OK.

What amazed me most was how normal this all seemed. Plenty of people around the mountain knew where the snow came from, and others I mentioned the practice to seemed wholly nonplussed…  “The snow comes from where? Huh, I didn’t know that. Cool. Better than using tap water.”  Indeed, I thought, better than using tap water.

If you have followed MPC’s work over the past five years, you’ll know we’ve been at the lead of an effort to modernize the Illinois Plumbing Code so that property owners, developers, architects, water resource managers, and tradesmen would have minimum safety standards for non-potable water re-use systems.  In theory these standards would make it possible for you to capture rain, store it in a legitimate cistern, and use to water a landscaping bed. Or maybe harvest condensate from a large air conditioning system and use it to flush toilets at a fieldhouse. Or reuse effluent to water golf courses. Or take the lightly used water from your laundry – we call that sort of thing gray water – and do something with more productive than just dumping it in the sewer. Interestingly enough, Illinois already has examples of all these things happening, but each of them required a code variance. If we want to truly tap the potential of non-potable water reuse, we need a code that streamlines permitting and eliminates the need for so many variances.

The good news is that all of that smart use of the right water for the right job is on the horizon. For the better part of six months the Illinois Dept. of Public Health has been diligently working on minimum safety standards, vetting them with a stakeholder group facilitated by MPC, hammering out details, etc., and is close to submitting them for review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. All signs point to that happening this spring or summer. I can’t wait, and check back here for updates.

We have lots and lots and lots of rain, gray water, condensate, and effluent out there that we might be able to put to good use. Lots.  Literally billions of gallons a day in northeastern Illinois. That’s a lot of resource water we could be doing something more productive with than we do today… and maybe, just maybe, some of it will some day be made into snow.  Now I just wish someone in the region had a lot of rock, and someone else a lot of sediment, so that we could get working on a mountain!

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Two Complementary Goals for Stormwater Management: Volume Control and Water Quality Improvement

By Shannon Madden

We were excited to hear – and report back to our WOWW readers – two very different stories of stormwater management in northeast Illinois at the Illinois Section American Water Works Association’s WATERCON conference in March. A side-by-side look at these two stories of local stormwater management shows how green infrastructure can address concerns about flooding and water quality simultaneously.

Hinsdale: Volume control to reduce urban flooding

As the Village of Hinsdale adds more (and larger) homes and streets, there is less open space to naturally manage rainwater. Inefficient drainage has led to local flooding – a messy and costly nuisance.

basement flood_CC Andrew Bisdale Hinsdale Patch

When stormwater exceeds sewer capacity, it can damage property by backing up into basements. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Bisdale)

After a 2008 Drainage Investigation estimated that building larger storm sewers and underground storage basins would cost $25 million, the Village began seeking a more economically viable solution. Hinsdale hired consultants to conduct a Green Initiatives Feasibility Study, which found that the Village could achieve similar stormwater benefits by including rain gardens and bioswales along public rights of way – all for about $10 million less than the 2008 estimate.

With this financial incentive, the Village held public meetings and provided brochures to explain the green infrastructure plan. Residents asked tough questions but supported the project overall. Public coordination helped ensure that sensitive local issues, like maintaining neighborhood character and protecting trees, were included in the planning process. After the bioswales, rain gardens and other green infrastructure are in place this summer, the community hopes localized flooding is less of a problem. See HR Green and the Village of Hinsdale’s presentation for more information.

As with the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor program – a green infrastructure grant program the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is piloting in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood – Hinsdale’s use of green infrastructure shows how residents, public leaders and consultants can work together to respect community finances and values when selecting stormwater management practices that ease urban flooding.

Rainbow Beach: Water quality improvements to address public health concerns

While Hinsdale targets stormwater volume, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) have a different goal for Rainbow Beach, a popular destination at 77th Street on Chicago’s southeast side. Due to excess E. coli, which can cause diarrhea and other health problems, Rainbow Beach was closed 123 days between 2006 and 2011; that’s the second-highest number of closures of all Chicago beaches. When stormwater runs over the lakeside parking lot – which is often crowded with pigeons – it collects E. coli, metals and other pollutants that diminish water quality. As Natural Resources Defense Council’s Laurel O’Sullivan told the Chicago Tribune, “Stormwater runoff is the No. 1 reason for beach closings.”


Rainwater carries contaminants from the parking lots near Rainbow Beach directly into Lake Michigan. This diminishes near-shore water quality and often forces the Chicago Park District to restrict swimming at the beach. (Photo courtesy of Giri Prabhukumar)

With funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, IIT Professor Krishna Pagilla and Ph.D. candidate Giri Prabhukumar aim to improve near-shore health by filtering runoff before it reaches Lake Michigan. Lab tests have helped the researchers refine their multimedia filter, with contents like iron filings and biochar, to effectively improve stormwater quality. Partnering with the Chicago Park District, which also monitors water quality through the Beach Ambassador program, Pagilla and Prabhukumar plan to construct the filter this year, establish a long-term maintenance plan and monitor water quality and flow at Rainbow Beach to evaluate filter success. The researchers are optimistic that the filter’s water quality improvements will keep the beach swimmable more often. See Mr. Prabhukumar’s presentation to WATERCON here.

The Village of Lake Zurich – a community in Lake County that MPC is providing technical assistance to on water planning – has a similar interest in improving water quality. Like stormwater running untreated into Lake Michigan from Rainbow Beach, runoff from Lake Zurich’s downtown can diminish the quality of the Village’s namesake lake. As the Village encourages downtown redevelopment, it also wants to improve the quality of water that enters the lake. Integrated water resource planning  – or considering water supply, wastewater, stormwater and water quality all together – will help the Village pursue comprehensive plans to reduce localized flooding, protect the lake’s water quality and reduce the downstream cost of water treatment.

Integrating volume and quality control objectives

While a stormwater project might focus primarily on volume or water quality, the truth is that green infrastructure can address both.

For example, Hinsdale’s volume-control strategy provides water quality benefits as well: the planned bioswales and rain gardens will remove excess nutrients, filter out solids and remove other urban pollutants from stormwater. Similarly, if IIT’s new technology successfully improves water quality, it could be combined with other green infrastructure to reduce runoff volume as well.

These dual benefits of green infrastructure might be particularly helpful in a place like Blue Island, Ill., a south suburb of Chicago working with MPC to reduce neighborhood flooding and improve the Cal-Sag Channel for use as a recreational destination. Mimicking natural hydrology with green infrastructure, and doing so in a data-driven manner, can be part of a cost-effective strategy to mitigate urban flooding, improve water quality and use our natural assets wisely in Blue Island and elsewhere. From every angle – public health, aesthetics, economics and sustainability – purposeful green infrastructure works alongside existing infrastructure to improve everyone’s experience, one project at a time.

To find out what else we learned at the conference – and what MPC shared about our own work with  the Northwest Water Planning Alliance and Lake Zurich – visit the conference website and download presentations.

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Green infrastructure builds community pride in Kansas City

By Shannon Madden

Kansas City recently became the first in the country to incorporate green infrastructure in its official stormwater plans. To uphold its consent decree with the U.S. EPA and address past violations of the Clean Water Act, the City will capture and treat 88% of combined sewer overflows, according to Kansas City Councilmember Jan Marcason. A lot of this will be achieved with the same best management practices that the Metropolitan Planning Council and its partners are implementing in the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor in Chicago.

Lacking federal and state funding to repair traditional infrastructure (e.g., sewer mains and detention basins), Kansas City citizens like those on the Wet Weather Panel successfully advocated for green infrastructure. Projects so far have included 64 rain gardens, 30 bio-retention cells, and permeable sidewalks. So far, the City has saved about $10 million over the estimated cost of storing stormwater in conventional underground tanks. Private property owners are saving, too: owners who implement green infrastructure can receive 75% off of Kansas City’s stormwater fee (which averages $2.50/month and funds the City’s Wet Weather Solutions Program).

The City’s widespread use of green infrastructure brings additional benefits, too. Residents feel a stronger sense of community pride as rain gardens and other green infrastructure beautify neighborhoods. Highly visible best management practices also enable communities to see exactly where the money is going, and they’re proud of the investment. This has stirred citizen action groups like the Utility Funding Task Force to ensure that community values continue to inform the City’s water management plans. Along with improved stormwater management, these community-building impacts are important benefits of green infrastructure. As Marcason told the Sustainable City Network, green infrastructure brings “social, economic and environmental benefits that make our city a better place to live and work.”

You can read more about Kansas City’s green infrastructure projects in the Natural Resource Defense Council’s case study.

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Rainwater Cities of the (Near) Future

By Shannon Madden

In a highly urban environment like northeast Illinois, we’re used to managing stormwater by sending it down the drain as fast as possible with gutters, pipes, and pavement. But since we pay to capture, convey, and treat all water that enters combined sewer systems (and we pay for the first two with separate sewer systems as well), that conventional approach is costly and wastes a valuable resource. What we need is a mental shift away from directing stormwater off our property to actually valuing rain as a resource. The POLIS Water Sustainability Project at the University of Victoria calls for this transition from “stormwater cities” to “rainwater cities” in Peeling Back the Pavement: Reinventing Rainwater Management in Canada’s Communities.

An underutilized resource, a lot of rainwater is directed to the sewer system, where we incur costs to capture, convey, and treat it. (Photo by Benjamin Stone)

An underutilized resource, a lot of rainwater goes directly to the sewer system, where we pay to capture, convey, and treat it. (Photo by Benjamin Stone)

Here’s a thought exercise: Let’s say two neighbors both enjoy gardening. Neighbor 1 waters her garden from the tap for an hour each morning, while Neighbor 2’s hose connects to a rain barrel filled with water from his roof. If both neighbors pay the city for their water use, who do you think is getting a better deal?

And what if those neighbors aren’t just two gardeners, but entire towns that pay for their public water supply?

I’m sure you see where this is going. POLIS might consider Neighbor 1 a “stormwater city,” or an area that relies on costly, treated water for almost all of its water needs, while simply sending away the resource that lands on our roofs and parking lots. Neighbor 2, on the other hand, is the savvy consumer that wouldn’t dream of paying for tap water to nourish his garden until he’d used that valuable rainwater first.

Let’s think a bit more. What do we need to make this shift? Do we need incentives for homeowners and developers? New laws that allow rainwater to be used for purposes other than drinking water? How about regional planning that transcends jurisdictions? The POLIS article reminds us that we need each of these critical factors. The great news is that they’re all becoming a reality in our region.

Incentives like the Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant provide resources for everyone from first-time homeowners to the Chicago Department of Transportation to be smart, sustainable neighbors who integrate urban development into the natural water cycle. Green infrastructure incorporates natural elements, like rain gardens, into the urban landscape. This slows the flow of water into our sewers, reduces long-term infrastructure maintenance needs and water treatment costs, and helps us make ecological and efficient use of the resource that falls from the sky.

Native plants, like this Nodding Wild Onion, make good use of rainwater, respect the local ecosystem, and beautify our gardens without requiring much maintenance. (Photo by Linda N.)

Native plants, like this Nodding Wild Onion, make good use of rainwater, respect the local ecosystem, and beautify our gardens without requiring much maintenance. (Photo by Linda N.)

Laws are being revised, too. The Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Department of Public Health are working to modify the Illinois Plumbing Code to set standards for non-potable uses of rainwater, like filling toilets. Not only will this help Illinoisans reduce our water bills, but it’s also been found to be profitable for developers in places like Oregon, where laws already allow for expanded uses of rainwater.

Regional planning is also under way. We all know that water ignores our political boundaries. Case in point, the Fox River passes through 10 communities in Wisconsin and another 24 towns in Illinois! That’s why we can’t manage water resources in one jurisdiction at a time. Instead, as the POLIS article points out, we need to make watershed-level and regional decisions as we learn to develop within the natural hydrological cycle. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning set an important local precedent by leading 11 counties in developing WATER 2050: Northeastern Illinois Water Supply/Demand Plan. The Northwest Water Planning Alliance is another positive collaboration of roughly 80 communities working to manage their shared groundwater resource. Check out this video of a Canadian example, the Bowker Creek Intiative.

Just as POLIS encourages Canadians to use rainwater as a valuable urban resource, Americans must also make this shift. Using rainwater for non-potable purposes, instead of sending it straight to the sewer system, makes economic and ecological sense. It’s time to change our attitude toward rainwater to show just how much we value it.

Residents of Blue Island in suburban Cook County planted a garden in a local Tot Lot as part of a large campaign to use rainwater better in their community. (Photo by Jason Berry)

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