One Water Approach: Transforming Water Management in the 21st Century

Credit: Dr. Timothy Bralower, Pennsylvania State University

Water shortages are occurring across the globe, even in communities close to Lake Michigan that experience frequent flooding.  Freshwater represents a fraction of the water on Earth and only 0.3% is surface available. As population increases, so does the demand for freshwater.

With a lack of surface water alternatives, many locations opt to supply their population with groundwater, which can take centuries to recharge; so, in the short-term, it is a finite resource. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) created a tool to reflect water resources used in the Chicagoland area. It shows that western Will County and northern Kendall County, among others on groundwater, face shortages and contamination (e.g. from salting in the winter).

Drinking water sources. Source: CMAP.

Water management is made difficult by multiple geographical and jurisdictional water boundaries, plus reliance on policies and regulations to appoint water allotments, such as the Illinois Lake Michigan Allocation Program. Through a combination of economic and governance analysis and an infrastructure review, we propose to inform a more efficient use of Illinois’ Lake Michigan water allocation to northern Illinois communities. Combined with improvements to water governance and infrastructure this could expand access to safe drinking water, address social inequities, and generate billions of dollars in needed revenue for the City of Chicago and other water producers, while conserving water, and reducing pressure on ecosystems.

Greenleaf is working to advance a One Water approach in the region that puts water consumption under a sustainable lens by recognizing all water is valuable, including stormwater and wastewater. Managing water as an integrated system allows for the most efficient use of water. Highlighted by the US Water Alliance, this approach provides environmental, economic, and social benefits through resource conservation, increased resilience, and more equitable access. Northern Illinois experiences intense storms and flooding, which are projected to increase with climate change. Optimizing stormwater management can help address growing water shortages in the region by using it for non-potable purposes. An article by the National Academy of Sciences speaks to how stormwater can be collected and used in a myriad of applications including irrigation and landscaping, laundry, and flushing toilets.

The One Water approach recognizes the importance of protecting natural flows as well as mitigating flooding for environmental and economic benefits. Greenleaf collaborates with many in this effort, including innovative companies like OptiRTC, Inc. that provide smart stormwater management technology services, leading water engineering firms, and strong local and state agencies and regional planning entities, including CMAP and the Metropolitan Planning Council, MPC, that work to address water affordability, availability, and quality (considering source and transportation contamination). Achieving a secure water future requires increased education, research, and creative thought on how we view water systems, delivered in a collaborative manner across disciplines to implement a One Water approach. In doing so, we can safeguard the availability and quality of water resources across Chicagoland for a resilient and sustainable future.


Posted in Greenleaf, water.