Groundwater communities need to be on alert
The Illinois State Water Survey has been monitoring and modeling Illinois’ water resources for more than a century. Its current projections for certain groundwater supplies in Northeastern Illinois is quite worrisome, stating that some high-capacity wells could be unusable in as little as 15 years.
The primary reason for groundwater aquifer depletion is unsustainable withdrawal by communities, private well users and agriculture. Depending on the type of aquifer your community uses for drinking water, you may be able to identify and designate groundwater recharge areas. These are land areas where rainfall is able to seep into the ground and help refill the aquifer. The Illinois State Water Survey or the U.S. Geological Survey are two agencies that can help communities identify groundwater recharge areas. If a particularly useful recharge area is identified, your municipality should take steps via a policy or ordinance to protect that area—for example, by not paving over it or approving uses that pollute the land—in order for clean rainwater to infiltrate those aquifers for future drinking water use.
The least expensive guarantee of future drinking water is conservation and efficiency today. Managing demand helps ensure enough drinking water for your community. Following are strategies that help preserve precious water supplies for the future.
Capture and reuse water
Rainwater is a great source of water for outdoor irrigation and other purposes. Rainwater catchment systems, which can include cisterns and rain barrels, can be designed and installed on both small- and large-scales. On average, outdoor water use accounts for more than 30 percent of total household water use—that is a lot of drinking water! By promoting the capture and use of rainwater for outdoor irrigation, your community can reduce unnecessary demand on drinking water supplies. Reusing rainwater has the added benefit of reducing the amount of water entering your sewer system, which can help prevent sewer overflows and urban flooding in your region.
Include information about cisterns and rain barrels in your community outreach and education programs, and collaborate with local organizations—such as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago or the Conservation Foundation—to help homeowners purchase and use rain barrels. Consider how the municipality can reduce demand on drinking water for irrigation, perhaps by installing cisterns at public buildings and locations. Or you might install underground cisterns at schools or parks to provide flood relief and water for irrigating turf and other plants in the summer.
Adopt WaterSense and other ways to conserve water
Implementing water-conservation programs not only preserves water, but helps your community members save money.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program provides tools and products for municipalities, businesses and consumers so they can be smarter about water use and saving money. One component of the EPA’s WaterSense program is the certification of WaterSense-labeled products, such as showerheads, toilets and bathroom faucets. These products use at least 20 percent less water than conventionals. By implementing WaterSense products in all municipal buildings, you can save water and money, and set an example to residents in your community.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) is a national stakeholder-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water. Headquartered in Chicago, AWE advocates for water-efficient products and programs, and provides information and assistance on water conservation efforts. AWE offers resources including a Water Conservation Tracking Tool. This tool uses your community’s usage data and system costs to evaluate the potential water savings, expenses and benefits of various conservation programs for your water system.
In addition to the steps outlined above, there are useful guides and handbooks that outline the basics and best practices for tracking water usage, conducting water-loss audits, analyzing available supply and utilizing demand management to help ensure your community has sustainable water service. References and links to these helpful resources can be found in the resource section of this guide.