Voice of the people (letter)
- By A+ Illinois and Ellen Shubart, Manager Campaign for Sensible Growth
- September 3, 2005
With rain and cooling temperatures coming
from the west, it's
likely that many people will soon forget about the grass "brownout" of 2005 and
go right back to their promiscuous water use.
But that attitude will only bring more water woes in years to come.
Instead, we should consider this year's drought--with its watering bans,
straw-like lawns and scant sweet corn--a cautionary tale that could help shape
new attitudes and actions among Chicago-area residents to preserve and protect
our limited water resources.
Rather than regarding Lake Michigan as an infinite supply of water, we, as a
region, must absorb the fact that, even in the Great Lakes region, water is a
precious commodity that needs to be conserved.
Planning ahead for anticipated growth is a strong first step. The Chicago
region is expected to grow by nearly 2 million residents by 2030, and more than
half of those new residents are expected to live in currently undeveloped areas.
New subdivisions and infrastructure investments--especially in parts of the
region without access to lake water--must incorporate policies that ensure
abundant drinking water and protect our existing natural resources.
Best development practices minimize "impervious" or nonporous surfaces, which
include roads, driveways, parking lots and roofs. Such surfaces prevent
rainwater from draining into underground water stores, called aquifers, which
Communities that adopt policies to reduce impervious surfaces, therefore,
help to maintain an adequate water supply. Even where development is already
under way, elected and appointed officials can change the course of future
By revising subdivision ordinances, communities can reduce street widths and
building setbacks, urge smaller parking lots and cluster residential development
to maintain open space.
Municipal and county codes also can be retooled to encourage permeable paving
and green roof designs, both of which improve aquifer recharge.
In areas of the region that are dependent on wells, communities should look
to vegetated swells instead of curbs and gutters along roads and streets. Swells
are depressions planted with native vegetation or grasses, which again will be
stronger in periods of less water.
Individuals can also be part of the solution. Gardeners can beautify their
backyards and conserve water with native plants, which by their nature help
recharge aquifers because they have longer roots than turf grass. With their
colorful blooms, native plants like purple cornflowers, sky blue asters and
prairie phlox provide a hardy, drought-resistant, low-maintenance landscape.
Once established, native plants save time and money by reducing the need for
fertilizers, pesticides and lawn maintenance. And, as a bonus, they attract
native wildlife such as birds and butterflies.
Rainwater gardens--shallow, wet areas in a yard, planted with native plants
and wildflowers that flourish with "wet feet"--retain, detain and infiltrate
storm water runoff from a home's roof. Even without the rain, these gardens
require less water than non-native landscaping.
And indoors, low-water-use toilets and water-efficient shower heads will
reduce the amount of water for daily use.
Even if next year brings flooding, communities and residents in northeastern
Illinois must make good planning and water conservation a top priority.
As explosive population growth increases the strain on our water supply,
those who plan now will be rewarded with clean, abundant water well into the