A Message from Mayor Thomas Weisner, Chairman of the NWPA Executive Committee
Charles Fishman – The Big Thirst
In his seminal book, The Big Thirst, author Charles Fishman suggests that just as people expect to feel a breeze when they open a window, we also expect to see water flowing whenever we turn a faucet handle. Unfortunately, while the breeze phenomenon may always be something we can count on, future generations have no assurance that a flick of the faucet handle will bring them a flow of fresh water.
This month’s NWPA newsletter is chock full of interesting news, but not all of it is reassuring. California, in its fourth year of draught, is tapping its deep aquifers at unprecedented rates. Even in a crisis situation, the majority of Californians use huge amounts of water to maintain their lawns. Joliet, Illinois, our neighbor to the south, has seen deep aquifer water levels fall 300 feet since 1980, in the cone of depression it has created in the aquifer. Last, but not least, the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) indicates that the increasing number of deep wells being drilled impacts water levels not only in deep aquifers, but also in shallow aquifers through which they pass.
While many changes can and must be made to sustain our precious and finite water supplies into the distant future, simple conservation measures, enacted by area cities and villages, have, perhaps, the greatest promise of preserving adequate fresh water for future generations . . . and they are relatively easy to put into place.
On average, residents use twice as much water than needed to maintain their lawns – water that has been treated for drinking at a considerable cost. But, many cities and villages hesitate to enact water conservation ordinances for two reasons: first, they worry that it will be politically unpopular; second, they worry that less consumption will mean less revenue.
But with a little bit of education, most residents initially accept and ultimately embrace intelligent conservation measures. And while there could be a loss of revenue, capital and operational costs can more than compensate by eliminating water plant enlargements or new wells and by reducing the volume and costs of treatment chemicals, etc.
To see the NWPA’s model water conservation ordinance – already in place in several area communities – go here
The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had its monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Present representatives discussed the impacts in NWPA communities of the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) irrigation tracking requirements
. Irrigators with high capacity wells or intakes must report their water usage for the first time by the end of the 2015 calendar year. Farm Bureaus in NWPA communities are working with ISWS to provide information and options to farmers.
Dr. Daniel Abrams, ISWS, gave a presentation on groundwater flow models with human-made stresses. He explained how the increasing number of new, deep wells is changing our aquifer water levels. He argued that there are many connections between aquifer layers, and wells extracting from deep aquifers can decrease the volume of water in shallow aquifers. The St. Peter aquifer, sitting above the Ironton-Galesville aquifer, will drop in water level as a result of the wells drilled to the deeper Ironton-Galesville aquifer. This is significant because, despite a short-term gain in available water supplies, the Ironton-Galesville aquifer will dry up over time due to a lack of recharge from the St. Peter aquifer. Going forward, Dr. Abrams will address how wells affect water quality, the water balance of our region, and the role of the Sandwich fault.
To learn more about NWPA and participate in our planning process, please attend our Technical Advisory Committee meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month at The Centre at Elgin at 10:00am. The next TAC meeting will be on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.
If you haven’t already heard, California is in the middle of a water crisis.
Governor Jerry Brown mandated State water restrictions following four consecutive years of drought
and a remaining one-year supply
of water in the state’s reservoirs. While this will succeed in cutting back on State water usage, it is possibly too little too late.
What did California do wrong? Well, much like northeast Illinois, California has aquifers that are shrinking and lawn watering practices that are wasteful, while groundwater was until recently not regulated at all
. California farmers rely on surface water until drought years, when they pump as much aquifer water as they’d like as allowed by State law. Additionally, excessive lawn watering is rampant in the arid lower two-thirds of the state. The average person in California’s towns and cities used more than twice
as much water than the average person in Maine in 2005, which is mostly credited to lawn watering.
Saving California from a water crisis of this magnitude requires a host of actions including improved management of groundwater resources and controls on outdoor water usage for all users. But California is not the only state susceptible to drought, and their crisis should serve as a wake-up call for elected officials everywhere that water resources are limited and planning for drought before it happens is critical.
For northeast Illinois municipalities, a wise response to this crisis is to learn from California’s mistakes and plan proactively. Our state may not be down to a one-year supply, but many of our communities use water as if there is an endless supply. As depicted in this graph, Joliet groundwater withdrawal is projected to increase in volume out to 2050 and beyond.
Effective water conservation techniques range from zero-cost behavioral changes to infrastructure upgrades. Municipal government support can help make these techniques more readily adopted. Water conservation techniques, in return, reduce the need for infrastructure spending, saving money for both governments and residents.
For residents, no-cost water conservation measures include turning off sinks and showers when not in use, following the recommended lawn watering ordinance
guidelines, and fixing leaky fixtures and appliances; a faucet dripping at one drop every second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water
per year. Low-cost water conservation measures include installing rain barrels, switching to efficient appliances, and building water retention areas; planting bioswales, rain gardens and native plants both replenish groundwater and filter out impurities.
For municipal governments, these same water conservation measures can be encouraged via educational materials, reminders, and rebates. In addition, municipalities should be inspecting water mains for leaks more frequently and replace public turf with native plants that require less irrigation.
The Northwest Water Planning Alliance has made it a goal to facilitate voluntary sustainable sub-regional water supply planning. Part of our mission is to educate and inform busy local elected officials about water-related issues in our region, and to educate our residents and especially our youth about the importance of managing our water supply and the value of water conservation. There has not been a more prudent time to act on these values than in the midst of the California water crisis. We can avoid a crisis like California’s by using our foresight to learn from California’s mistakes and take initiative. Reiterate the dire condition of California water resources to your municipal governments and residents; let them know that we might be in that position one day if we do not change our water use behaviors.
If your municipality hasn’t already, consider adopting the NWPA approved Regional Water Conservation Lawn Watering Ordinance
. Communities such as Aurora, Batavia, Elburn, McHenry, and Montgomery have already adopted the ordinance. The ordinance establishes a year-round watering regimen based on even and odd days and best times to water, with two levels of tighter watering restrictions that allow municipalities to respond appropriately to emergency water shortage situations such as drought. Achieving widespread adoption of a uniform policy would demonstrate the ability of the NWPA to act in concert as a regional planning entity, provide consistency among groundwater-dependent communities, and help residents understand how and why they are conserving water.
Margaret Schneemann, with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant with support from the University of North Carolina Environmental Finance Center, has created a handy Water Rate Benchmarking Tool for northeast Illinois
. Illinois is the 10th
state in the US and 1st
state in the Midwest to have a water rates dashboard
to easily view and compare cost data. Its main purpose is to calculate water rate bills for utilities. The tool allows users to see how a water bill changes with consumption while observing metrics like conservation signaling and affordability. Margaret hopes people will use this as a communication tool when considering rate increases. This tool will also save communities a significant amount of staff time calling around to different communities to collect water rate information to compare with their usage data.
The Northwest Water Planning Alliance (NWPA), formed by intergovernmental agreements, seeks to collaboratively plan for and steward our shared river and groundwater resources to ensure a sustainable water supply for the people, economy, environment, and future generations.
For more information or to contribute to the newsletter, contact Bridget Hardy.