Illinois needs plan for managing its water resources - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Illinois needs plan for managing its water resources

You may have heard that turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth is a great way to save water – up to three gallons per day, in fact. But considering that 18 billion gallons of water are used each day in Illinois , those savings, while welcome, are literally a drop in the bucket.

Illinois’ water use is sharply rising, further diminishing returns on individual water conservation efforts: by 2025, Southern Illinois University researchers predict we’ll use about 23 billion gallons per day. That number could climb higher still to meet the needs of a growing population, as well as thirsty industrial and agricultural uses, including, potentially, substantially increased ethanol production.

To ensure everyone in Illinois continues to have access to clean water – in a way that is equitable, economical, and ecologically sustainable – we need more than individual conservation efforts. We need a statewide system for managing our limited water supply. To get there, we first need to square what we don’t know with what we do know.

We know that water shortages have been forecasted for at least 11 townships in metropolitan Chicago by 2020, and that the entire state’s water supply is limited. Even the 6.8 million Illinoisans who drink Lake Michigan water are at risk, because withdrawals from the Lake are restricted by an international compact and a Supreme Court decree, and are near their limit.

We know that Chicago doesn’t want to become another Atlanta or Houston , which have been in the national spotlight for water shortage crises that might have been avoided with proper planning. We know that Illinois ’ natural ecosystems require water resources, too. And we know that Illinois farmers want assurances that a lack of water won’t threaten the state’s resurgent agricultural economy.

Finally, we know that Illinois ’ future economic and population growth absolutely hinges on a safe, reliable supply of water for public, commercial, agricultural and industrial use.

On the other hand, what we don’t know, we can’t wait much longer to find out.

We don’t know how much water is used across the state because data on water use in Illinois is woefully incomplete – many of the state’s largest users of water are not required to report how much they consume.

We also don’t know how to integrate regional plans into one fair and sustainable state plan. We are just beginning to explore the governance strategies and policy decisions needed to reach water supply goals.

When it comes to our water future, we have more questions than answers. That’s why, on May 16, water experts and professionals from Illinois and across the Great Lakes will come together at “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers: Water Governance Solutions for Illinois ,” a conference to put Illinois on the right track toward addressing those questions with sensible strategies. Attendees will hear from local and international water management experts, and learn what other states are doing to balance the need to preserve water quality and quantity with the need to grow and develop. Recommendations devised at the conference will help shape a plan for managing Illinois ’ water and integrating those concerns into regional growth and development plans.

When it comes to water, everyone is a stakeholder. So go ahead and turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, because even the little things help.

But, the little things aren’t enough, and Illinois cannot wait until the next drought or flood strikes to plan for the future. Attend “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers,” participate in regional planning processes, and contact your elected officials to encourage them to make preserving and protecting our shared water resources a top priority.

Gerald W. Adelmann
Executive Director

MarySue Barrett
Metropolitan Planning Council

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