Broken City Lab
We're excited today at MPC because Ill. Senate Bill 2549: Rainwater Harvesting for Non-Potable Uses passed out of the Senate Environmental Committee this morning, its first hurdle toward ultimate passage.
SB 2549 is one of those pieces of legislation that just makes sense — it won't cost much, it will put the market to work solving problems, and it will give individuals and communties more choice in how they manage their water supplies.
Rain is the only water that is actually free. It just falls from the sky, some of it watering your lawn and recharging surface water supplies in the process. However, once rain hits roofs and pavement, and runs off into sewers only to mix with wastewater, it suddenly becomes stormwater, which is a costly nuisance. At the same time, every other water source — Lake Michigan, underground aquifers, or rivers like the Fox or Kankakee — comes with a bevy of pumping, treatment and distribution costs.
So ... why not do something to prevent rain from becoming stormwater? Why not turn this nuisance into a resource?
One way to do that is make it easier for people, businesses and communities to harvest rain and use it for non-potable uses, most notably flushing toilets. Toilets account for about 20 percent of household water use. There's really no good reason to flush treated drinking water down the toliet, but we do it every day (overall, we only drink about 10 percent of our so-called "drinking water.") The more you think about, the sillier this becomes.
Fortunately, Illinois is on its way to being the first Great Lakes state to make rainwater harvesting for non-potable uses easy, safe and straightforward. SB 2549 (chief co-Sponsors: Ill. Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park)) would require the Ill. Dept. of Health to establish minimum standards for capture of rainwater on site and re-use for non-potable purposes. These uniform standards would help plumbers, engineers and builders ensure that no rain water accidentally makes its way into public water supplies.
Example standards already exist in several other states. Because rainwater harvesting helps reduce stormwater runoff, wet states like Oregon use it, and because it provides an additional water source, dry states like Texas and Arizona use it, too.
Stormwater runoff mitigation (particularly in the Lake Michigan diversion area, where stormwater runoff counts as water we "took" from the lake) and a rethinking of traditional water supplies are just two of the many recommendations in MPC and Openlands' recent report Before the Wells Run Dry. They're also nicely consistent with the just-completed Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply Plan and the Great Lakes Compact.
Feel free to contact me with any questions, and to contact your legislator to let them you know you support it.