What Our Water's Worth is a campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana

Turf's up: Maintaining a healthy lawn during drought

Skokie homeowner Rachel Rosenberg stands next to her lawn, which she maintains with minimal water use. Photo by Emily Cikanek

By Matt Nichols

When Skokie resident Rachel Rosenberg was pregnant with her first child, she had an epiphany: The chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides she was spraying on her lawn not only were environmentally unsustainable, but also potentially dangerous to her family’s health. That realization, 17 years ago, led Rosenberg to change the way she tended her lawn and garden – including dramatically reducing how often she waters.

Lawn watering is one of the primary residential uses of water, particularly during a summer when northeastern Illinois is in a drought and on track to notch a record number of 90-plus degree days. As the Chicago Tribune highlighted in a recent article, municipal public works officials are keeping a close eye on water supplies as homeowners’ use creeps up. Communities must maintain adequate water pressure to keep fire hydrants functioning and prevent backflows that can cause contamination; moreover, spikes in summertime consumption strain infrastructure capacity.

From a regional perspective, the issue is made more complex: Northeastern Illinois has approximately 280 communities and Northwest Indiana about 80, each with its own outdoor water-use ordinance – despite that they are intended to protect the same shared local water supplies, such as Lake Michigan, and local rivers and aquifers.

Read on to learn how Rosenberg is conserving water while maintaining an attractive, healthy lawn, and how community watering ordinances can help manage local water supplies during drought.

Take our brief survey about lawn watering for a chance to win two free tickets to an upcoming MPC and Openlands roundtable with regional leaders on water issues.

Conservation Tips

Use the right water for the job. Automatic sprinklers can be unnecessarily wasteful. Watering by hand makes it easier to reuse water from a rain barrel.

Maintain a healthy lawn with deep roots by applying organic, phosphorous-free fertilizer once or twice annually. Water only occasionally, but for a longer duration, to develop deeper roots.

Select native plants, which are adapted to the local climate and require less water during hot Illinois summers. The Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee offers neighborhood tours of native plant gardens to help inform their residents about the possibilities.

During a drought or local water shortage, stop watering your lawn altogether. With proper care in autumn, it will recover for the following year. Focus on protecting trees and ornamental plants.

August 2012

Illinois American Water (lead sponsor)

Upcoming events

Sep 11 Fall public workshop for the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor grant program 7:00 PM–9:00 PM
Sep 13 Rain Check: Regional Solutions to Stormwater Management 12:00 PM–1:30 PM
Sep 24–25 Illinois Water Conference 2012 10:00 AM–4:00 PM

More events »

The WOWW Factor


In the average American household, roughly 90% of water goes to non-potable uses, like watering lawns and flushing toilets.

1 inch

That’s all the water a typical lawn needs per week. Depending on your sprinkler, 30 to 60 minutes of watering once a week – early in the morning or early in the evening – should be sufficient.

18 hours

Even the most stringent watering ordinances still provide more than 18 hours a week during which homeowners can water their lawns.

Become a fan on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

What Our Water's Worth is a monthly e-newsletter. Tell us what you think. Email info@chicagolandh2o.org with feedback in the subject.

To subscribe, visit our website at chicagolandh2o.org.