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Great Lakes Article:

'Troubled waters' report addresses Lake Michigan supply, restrictions
By Patrick Ferrell
The Star
Published January 12, 2006

The differing watering restrictions in south suburban communities this summer could be a thing of the past if state and regional officials heed recommendations in a water supply report issued Monday in Chicago.

"Troubled Waters: Meeting Future Water Needs in Illinois" highlights eight recommendations that should be undertaken to ensure Illinois continues to have a viable supply of fresh water.

One recommendation encourages uniform water conservation measures, which would essentially eliminate the problem experienced this summer when neighboring communities had wildly different rules on who could use outdoor water and when.

The major recommendations call for taking a statewide inventory of available surface and groundwater and creating a framework for regional water supply planning. Just before the study was released by three environmental groups, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced plans to heed the first two recommendations.

"Last summer's drought demonstrated to us that careful management of our water must be a priority so we always have enough supply for people to drink and use," the governor said in a statement announcing his order.

Even though the Chicago region sits next to Lake Michigan, part of the world's largest source of freshwater, "we don't have an unlimited supply of water. That's the reality," according to Scott Goldstein, a member of the Metropolitan Planning Council and the study's co-author.

The Chicago area's water rations stem from a decades-old Supreme Court decree that limits how much water Illinois can take out of the Great Lakes. Illinois is already close to its maximum allocation, and the area's population is expected to grow by 25 percent over the next 15 years. Water usage is expected to grow by 28 percent, said Joyce O'Keefe, the deputy director of the Openlands Project and the other co-author of the study.

Water usage in fast growing Will County is expected to rise even faster.

"The growing parts of our region cannot rely on Lake Michigan," O'Keefe said. "We always assumed that with enough money, we can run the pipes out farther and farther. We now realize it is not going to be the case."

Unless a water inventory is taken, and regional use plans are adopted, the region could experience water shortages in as few as two decades, the report says.

The Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands, in addition to the Campaign for Sensible Growth, used a model from Texas to demonstrate how regional plans can help guarantee a viable water supply.

Bill Mullican, of Texas' Water Development Board, said Texas' water use plan calls for communities to demonstrate conservation measures before they are allowed to access more water.

That's one of the tenets of the Troubled Waters report.

Ed Paesel, the executive director of South Suburban Mayors and Managers, said such a plan will help balance the differing restrictions on outdoor water usage in the area.

Paesel also said the governor's plan to study water availability will particularly help the South Suburbs.

"This is very important to our area," Paesel said. "Our area is unique because some areas depend on lake water, while others have to look to other options."

Patrick Ferrell may be reached at pferrell@starnewspapers.com or (708) 802-8832.

 

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