Water academy goes virtual - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Water academy goes virtual

Water. For something so elemental, there’s a lot to know. This year, engineers, consultants, community organizers, municipal water personnel, a United States Senator, and reporters from NPR and the Chicago Tribune participated in the Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy

When MPC launched the Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy in 2019, our intention was to help local officials and community leaders make vital decisions to ensure their community has safe and reliable drinking water now and into the future. Even the most ambitious and well-prepared public servants may not be versed in the minutiae of water supply management, and sometimes an electoral victory means suddenly being handed the keys to a very complex and ever-changing water delivery system.

Indeed, while it may be increasingly common for water to feature in election campaigns in western and southwestern states—where access to water amounts to an existential threat—most mayors in northeastern Illinois don’t come into office with a background in water resources management. But we shouldn’t let our abundant access to water lull us into a fall sense of security.

We shouldn’t let our abundant access to water lull us into a fall sense of security.

Attending to the System

Our water sources and water systems need attention, and municipal officials and staff have a crucial role to play. To that end, in 2017 we published the Drinking Water 1-2-3 guidebook which captured national best practices, case studies, and advice in a print and digital format that’s gotten attention from around the United States and beyond.

But publishing a guidebook alone wasn't enough; we needed to ensure that our amazing civil servants understood the key takeaways and knew what decisions needed to be made regarding our region’s community water supplies. That's why we followed the Drinking Water 1-2-3 guidebook with the Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy, an event series to discuss critical best practices and provide opportunities for shared dialogue:

Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy, 2019 edition

Between April and September 2019, MPC hosted participants from diverse professions including public office, consulting firms, planning organizations, research institutions, conservation groups, and more. Spread throughout northeastern Illinois, the Academy attracted over 200 participants, including elected officials, administrators, public works staff, utility operators and planners from 50 municipalities representing 50% of the population of the seven-county region. For more information about these events, click here.

Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy, pandemic edition

The Academy was designed to repeat on a two-year cycle, and we knew we wanted to recapture some of the magic in 2021. But given the pandemic uncertainty, we shifted to an online platform and are proud to have been joined by 365 attendees across three events, 39% of whom represented municipal government, including mayors, trustees, and administrators. Read on for more information about the 2021 Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy!

2021 Series Recap

Each Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy event centers around a specific theme. Here’s a look at what we dug into in 2021.

We shifted to an online platform and are proud to have been joined by 365 attendees across three events, 39% of whom represented municipal government.

  • Event #1 (June 17, 2021) – Water Affordability: People with the highest water bills in Illinois are often those with the least ability to pay. State Rep. Lindsey LaPointe discussed a new bill that funds a study to better understand water rates across Illinois. Next, Michigan State University Prof. Janice Beecher explained that water rates are rising faster than all household expenses except college tuition. The Chicago Tribune’s Cecilia Reyes then hosted a panel that covered the impact of assistance programs on utilities, addressing shutoffs, engaging the community, and thinking about water in terms of livable communities. To watch the full event, click here.

  • Event #2 (July 15, 2021) – Lead Service Lines: Illinois has more lead service lines than any other state in America. U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth joined MPC’s Justin Keller for a “Lakeside Chat” to discuss the six million total lead service lines in the United States, 23% of which are in Illinois. Then Brenda Santoyo from LVEJO presented on the cost of lead service line replacement statewide, environmental justice concerns, and the timeline of new state legislation. And WBEZ’s Monica Eng moderated a panel discussion on the nuts and bolts of replacing a service line, the policy decisions municipalities can make upfront, and the importance of public education and communication campaigns. To watch the full event, click here.

  • Event #3 (August 19, 2021) – Asset Management: The perennial Top 2 issues in the AWWA’s State of the Water Industry report are replacing aging infrastructure and paying for it. Mayors know that aging infrastructure is an issue, but how to address it? First, Mayor Katrina Thompson discussed her administration’s asset-management strategy as it relates to livability and quality of life. Carolyn Grieves from Baxter & Woodman reminded us that nothing lasts forever and discussed the steps in developing an asset-management strategy. Then Jed Kim from American Public Media led a panel discussion on aging water infrastructure and the risk of simply waiting for things to fail. The panel reminded us that "asset management" goes beyond infrastructure to things like better business practices, improved efficiency, and developing trust with community members. To watch the full event, click here.

Another Big Win for Water in Our Region

Three-hundred-sixty-five attendees, twenty presenters, three events, and one shared goal: delivering the best water supply service possible in the Chicago region! That’s what drives us to offer programming like the Drinking Water 1-2-3 Academy.

As the Biden administration and Congress pursue legislation to prioritize and invest in our nation’s infrastructure, it’s more important than ever to utilize best practices, collaborate across municipal boundaries, and attend to our drinking water systems and other critical infrastructure.

Water. It’s elemental. And essential.


We are deeply grateful to the following for their support of MPC's robust water agenda: the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, McDougal Family Foundation, and the Prince Charitable Trusts.

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