After Showerheads and Sprinklers - Metropolitan Planning Council

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After Showerheads and Sprinklers

As Illinois moves toward a state water supply plan, MPC co-hosted a May 16 conference to generate news ideas for protecting and sustaining our water resources.

Nearly 200 people gathered in Chicago on May 16 at “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers,” a conference to help chart a new, more sustainable course for water supply management in Illinois . 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. Keynote speaker Peter Gleick challenged the audience to take a new approach to protecting and preserving Illinois ’ water resources.



“Rethink supply. Rethink demand. Improve water quality by protecting the natural environment. Improve water management and governance,” said Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security , and an internationally recognized water expert. Gleick also identified significant pressures on global water supplies – particularly climate change, population growth, increasing quality of life, and biofuel production – and stressed that by developing effective governance Illinois and the Great Lakes region could become an international model for the 21st century. 

The goal of “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers” was to outline the criteria of an effective water supply planning system, and to create a set of recommendations to help the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR) and two regional pilot planning groups (Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply Planning Group and the East Central Illinois Water Supply Planning Committee ) define the proper roles and responsibilities of different levels of government in managing water supply.  To that end, the conference hosts – MPC, Openlands, and the Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy – commissioned a white paper to explore the demands of water supply planning and suggest a path toward a state plan.  Jack Wittman of Wittman Hydro Planning Associates, Inc., drafted the paper, which is available for public review and sparked a lively discussion that concluded the conference.

Further speakers included:

  • Gary Clark, director of the Office of Water Resources at IDNR, and the chairs of the two pilot planning groups, Bonnie Thomson Carter and Brent O’Neill, who updated attendees on the current state of water supply planning in Illinois.  All three were encouraged by the level of participation at the conference and largely supported the white paper;


  • Sam Speck, commissioner on the International Joint Commission that oversees the Great Lakes, who discussed the benefits and ramifications for Illinois of the Great Lakes Compact.   

  • Mary Ann Dickinson, executive director of the Alliance for Water Efficiency , who discussed the ways in which current regulations in many states prohibit the use of grey water (nonpotable water that has been run through a shower or washing machine).  Greywater is suitable for lawn watering or use in toilets, and greatly reduces waste, but is mostly lost down the drain;

  • Otto Doering, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, who spoke of the complexities of the biofuel industry and its relation to water use and water supply; and

CDM, Illinois American Water, Sloan Valve, and Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. sponsored the conference.  The Joyce Foundation and Lumpkin Family Foundation generously funded the event. 

The conference white paper, speaker presentations, and more, are available on the conference’s online discussion forum, Glass Half Full.


For more information on MPC's efforts on state and regional water planning, please contact Josh Ellis at (312) 863-6045, or  


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