Despite mid-August rain showers, a drought meteorologists have categorized as “severe or extreme” continues to threaten Illinois, Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. Farmers aren’t the only ones in distress. Agribusinesses anticipate earnings shortfalls, and grocery prices are rising. Municipal and private water utilities are experiencing surges in water demand as homeowners battle to keep lawns green. Whether you’re keeping up with the Joneses or not, your water rates may rise, as peak demand can pressure communities to build larger pipes and pumps than they need.
Perhaps even more than we need rain, metropolitan Chicago needs to change behaviors to reduce wasteful water use and adopt technologies that accomplish the same job with less water. The Northwest Water Planning Alliance – five counties and 80 municipalities in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, which get their drinking water from underground aquifers and the Fox River – are setting a good example. Led by Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and Kane County Chairman Karen McConnaughay, local leaders are collaborating on economically and environmentally sound solutions to protect their water supply, such as a proposed uniform lawn watering ordinance.
In addition to conserving our water supplies, this region has been a slackard on re-using the rain we do get – not to mention grey water and air conditioning condensate. Finally, the Ill. Dept. of Public Health is updating the Plumbing Code so we can tap leading technologies and methods that promote water conservation and safety. For instance, we simply don’t need treated drinking water to flush toilets or water gardens. The new code will protect public health and preserve water resources, while balancing costs.
These have been isolated showers of leadership, when what we really need is a deluge. Overall, the forecast for Illinois remains challenging:
- The state has developed plans to manage water supplies in three regions, but hasn’t allocated a dime to put to put them into practice – or to provide the same critical planning for other parts of Illinois.
- Current regulations prohibit most reuses of treated wastewater, which is perfectly suitable for irrigation or cooling systems.
- In most communities, the price we pay for water doesn’t come close to the full cost of providing it. Conservation and efficiency can only take us so far; as the pipes and treatment plants our communities rely on for clean, safe drinking water age, we need adequate revenue to cover maintenance and upgrades.
This summer’s drought – much like the floods we experienced in the spring – reminds us that we cannot control Mother Nature. However, we can be much better prepared for the future by ensuring water resource managers have the tools they need to preserve the water we do have – and make us more resilient to the next weather whim.