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
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
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
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
are restricted by an international compact and a
Supreme Court decree, and are near their limit.
We know that
doesn’t want to become another
have been in the national spotlight for water shortage crises that might have
been avoided with proper planning. We know that
’ natural ecosystems require water
resources, too. And we know that
farmers want assurances that a lack
of water won’t threaten the state’s resurgent agricultural economy.
Finally, we know that
’ 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
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
When it comes to our water future, we have more
questions than answers. That’s why, on May 16, water experts and professionals
and across the Great Lakes will
come together at “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers: Water Governance Solutions
,” a conference to put
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
’ 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
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