By Marcella Bondie, LEED AP
Standing on Lake Michigan’s beaches, it’s easy to think that we—those of us lucky enough to live within piping distance of a Great Lake—have an endless supply of water. However, as I discovered on May 29, at the first of the DuPage Water Commission’s four workshop series, Utility Planning and Asset Management, careful water management is needed even in communities that receive Lake Michigan water.
Hosted by the DuPage Water Commission, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and MWH Global, this series of workshops targets conservation coordinators and municipal leaders from around DuPage County with the why and how of sustainable water management.
At the first event, I learned from the Illinois State Water Survey’s Scott Meyer that Illinois is legally limited in the amount of water it can withdraw from Lake Michigan. Illinois is limited to an average of 3,200 cubic feet per second (cfs). This is approximately 2,068 million gallons per day (MGD). This allocation is used for household and commercial potable water, or diverted to tributary rivers to improve water quality and navigation depth. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also takes a stormwater runoff deduction out of Illinois’ allocation. This deduction is an estimated amount of stormwater that, because of the historic reversal of the Chicago River toward the Mississippi River, does not enter Lake Michigan. So far, Illinois is doing okay—but additional Illinois communities could request lake water in the future, or new businesses locating to the region could require more. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Water 2050 regional water supply plan, the demand for water may increase by as much as 64 percent by 2050.
So why is it so difficult for people to recognize the value of the water supply and invest in water infrastructure? Margaret Schneemann, a resource economist with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, pointed out water’s “invisibility.” Water supply lines are buried underground and pumping stations are usually nondescript, tucked-away buildings. It’s easy to forget that a kitchen sink is connected to a huge network of pipes, pumps and treatment facilities. When people pay their monthly water bill (if they pay one at all), they often don’t realize they’re paying for more than just water—they’re also paying for the water service. Unfortunately, when water utility rates don’t reflect the full cost of operating a water utility, this infrastructure can’t be properly maintained, leading to an aging system, expensive emergency repairs and leaky pipes that lose water (and all the costs that went into producing the water).
Treating and pumping water requires energy, so every wasted gallon of water is also wasted energy. And producing energy requires water. According to Karl Johnson at MWH Global, the energy industry is responsible for 49 percent of all water withdrawals in the U.S.—more than any other sector. This means that well-managed water utilities not only reduce their own water and energy loss, but also conserve more energy and water “upstream” at the power plant.
To illustrate water management on a municipal scale, MPC Program Director Josh Ellis presented a case study of integrated planning in Lake Zurich, Illinois. Integrated resource planning considers the relationships between water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and water quality to sustainably plan for a community’s longterm water needs. Through a process of data collection, community meetings and stakeholder interviews, MPC helped Lake Zurich define specific water management goals that aligned with the municipality’s existing strategic plan.
The workshop concluded with a discussion of practical solutions for water utilities. John Wiemhoff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated free online tools to help water utilities assess energy usage and manage assets. Strong communication with consumers is also needed. Hillary Holmes at MWH Global noted that when one Illinois municipality completed a major water system renovation, they celebrated with a grand opening of a pumping station—complete with balloons and sections of riddled pipe. Fun, creative ideas like these can help residents be more supportive of water utility rates that match the cost of providing clean water.
The DuPage Water Commission, in collaboration with MPC, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and MWH Global, will host three more water management workshops this summer. Future workshops will focus on water regulations and ordinances, indoor and outdoor water use and water rates and revenue. The half-day workshops are free and open to all public works employees, and count for 3.25 Renewal Training Credits through Illinois EPA. For more information, contact MPC Associate Abby Crisostomo at MPC.