December 18th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
November 29th, 2012 by Irene Miles
Earlier this week, we celebrated the 40thanniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This law allows us to feel safe taking a sip from a water fountain or filling a glass from the tap virtually anywhere in the United States. It’s undeniably a feat worth celebrating, but it’s not to say that delivering safe drinking water to millions of Americans is without its challenges—as this year’s events in Charleston, West Virginia and Toledo, Ohio prove.
One of the largest challenges lies in the system itself. Much of our drinking water infrastructure is more than a century old and in desperate need of repair. Leaky pipes and broken water mains cost the country around 6 billion gallons of water every day—roughly 16 percent of our daily use. In the Great Lakes region alone, the annual water loss is enough to supply 1.9 million Americans with safe drinking water for a year.
In northeastern Illinois, the cost of leaky pipes is heightened by overtaxed aquifers and legal limits on how much water can be pulled from Lake Michigan. And as the region’s population grows, there is increasing concern that demand for clean water will outpace supply if communities don’t take steps to encourage conservation, including adjusting water prices to reflect the real costs.
Treating water to meet national standards poses its own problems. In fact, some of the chemicals used to treat contaminants regulated under SDWA have themselves proven toxic under the right conditions.
Water suppliers today also face the question of how to deal with emerging contaminants like pharmaceuticals and chemicals found in personal care products. Our wastewater and drinking water systems weren’t designed with these in mind and often don’t eliminate them. These chemicals have been found across the country in the rivers and lakes we rely on for fresh water, including Lake Michigan. In fact, a 2008 Associated Press investigation found pharmaceuticals and their byproducts in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. They’re present in very small concentrations—too small to be toxic to humans. But the long-term risk to humans is still largely unknown. What is clear is that at least some pose a significant threat to aquatic wildlife.
One of the biggest culprits in lake and river pollution is
stormwater runoff. When it flows into waterways, runoff brings everything with it—from gasoline and trash on city streets to fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farms. These pollutants and the algae growth they spur on can make it more expensive to treat drinking water. In rare cases, water quality can drop so low that it doesn’t meet federal standards even with treatment. And
concerns about pollutant-laden stormwater runoff continue to grow in the Midwest as storms get bigger.
Fortunately, while public water systems and communities continue to grapple with these and other challenges at a larger scale, there is a lot individuals can do day-to-day. For example, properly disposing of unwanted medicine can help keep pharmaceutical chemicals out of waterways and drinking supplies. Homeowners and gardeners can also adopt natural lawn care practices that reduce water usage and prevent landscape chemicals from washing into nearby rivers and lakes. Even simple practices like washing your car with a bucket and sponge or waiting for a full load to start the washing machine can go a long way towards conserving water.
Visit EPA’s Conserving Water site for more information and tips.
November 14th, 2012 by Irene Miles
One issue that cuts across local, state, and federal levels in terms of importance is our need for water. Water issues have been in the news, especially with regards to old systems and infrastructure that need to be upgraded and repaired to meet growing future needs.
Situated along the shore of Lake Michigan, metropolitan Chicago has benefited for centuries from an abundance of fresh water. The infrastructure for delivering water is primarily underground: out of sight, out of mind. But awareness of the existing infrastructure’s condition and the challenges faced by community water suppliers has grown in recent years due to service and budget concerns.
“Given the post-election climate, the AWWA predicts that a proposed Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) — patterned after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) — will be the most likely vehicle for federal investment in water infrastructure… While the WIFIA is an important strategy to make large-scale water infrastructure investment more affordable for local communities, the AWWA continues to believe that local rates and charges are the best funding sources.
Read the complete blog post at the link above.
CMAPs regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040, recommends that communities adopt full-cost pricing to help address the need for investment in water infrastructure at the local level. CMAP and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant will release a full-cost water pricing guide for local leaders this winter.
September 10th, 2012 by Irene Miles
Coal-tar sealant, a commonly used application in parking lot and other pavements, is known to be harmful to humans, and threatens to enter watersheds and Great Lakes waterways as well. That is why lawmakers in three Great Lakes states are considering or proposing a ban on the substance in order to protect those waters.
“Negative effects on fish and other aquatic animals include inhibited reproduction, fin erosion, liver abnormalities, cataracts and death, according to Geological Survey reports.
Coal-tar sealcoat makes up about half of the PAHs in lake sediment, according to Environmental Science and Technology. It is why PAH levels have increased in the sediment of urban and suburban lakes since 2000 even when other major PAH producers, like power plants, have been decreasing emissions.”
Read the complete story at the link above.
August 27th, 2012 by Irene Miles
A two-part article on WKSU’s website delves into recent research attempting to understand the causes of harmful and often very large algal blooms in Lake Erie. The potential negative impacts these blooms can have include depleting nutrients from the waterway, endangering fish and wildlife health, and causing economic concerns by prohibiting or discouraging recreation, tourism, and other industries.
of the article delves into one major contributor identified by the research: agriculture.
“Financial viability is the bottom line for most farmers here along the Maumee River. The Maumee passes through 4.5-million acres of farmland before entering Lake Erie at Toledo. Along the way it picks up a lot of topsoil from farm fields. Attached to that soil are fine particles of phosphorus, one of the nutrients that helps crops grow, but also feeds algae blooms. No-till farming has reduced particulate phosphorus runoff by nearly 40-percent. But researchers from Heidelberg University say their thirty years of water quality data shows that another form of phosphorus – called dissolved phosphorus – has risen dramatically in recent years. And to reduce that nutrient enough to curb Lake Erie algae blooms will take a whole new set of techniques.”
The second article
describes another common source of phosphorous and other problem substances – stormwater and sewage.
“The sport fishing industry, beach resorts, amusement parks – all took a hit from the 2011 algae outbreak. Connor says cities …not just farms…have to do more to stay on top of it.
Overflows from sewage systems that collect storm water and waste water are a fairly regular occurrence in Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit and other communities around the lake. And it’s a huge cost to fix it.”
There is a lot of interesting information in both articles, and the occurrence of and concern over these algal blooms isn’t limited to Lake Erie. All of the Great Lakes and other nearby waterways can be susceptible, so the results of studies such as these are important in helping communities prevent the same types of problems in their areas. Our friends at Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure for beach managers that outlines more information about algal blooms, and IISG has produced a card for homeowners that explains how to properly care for your lawn without contributing to the phosphorous problem.
August 22nd, 2012 by Irene Miles
Aging pipes and pollution runoff are big concerns in any city, and the cost to repair or replace old systems is very high. Often it means downtime for entire streets and systems, and a very big price tag to boot.
But cities worldwide are adopting green infrastructure elements to help manage numerous factors, from excessive burden on old systems to pollution management and more.
“Gray infrastructure is the system of pipes and ditches that channel storm water. Green infrastructure is the harnessing of the natural processes of trees and other vegetation — so-called ecosystem services — to carry out the functions of the built systems. Green infrastructure often intercepts the water before it can run into streets and become polluted and stores the water for gradual release through percolation or evapotranspiration. Trees also clean dirty water through natural filtering functions.
Advocates say green infrastructure isn’t just about being green — it makes financial sense, as well. Its cost-effectiveness depends on how benefits are assigned and valued, and over how long a time scale, but green has been shown to be cheaper than gray.”
The article (linked above) features much more information about green infrastructure examples, from Seattle to Sweden and many points in between.
July 12th, 2012 by Irene Miles
Changes in weather patterns, such as warmer winters and lower rainfall averages, can have large effects on water availability, lake levels, plant and fish life, and more. Because so many people and industries rely on the Great Lakes, those changes can have a significant impact beyond the obvious, as is the case for the shipping industry.
“For decades, the mathematics of waterborne transport here were simple. For every 10 to 11 metric tons of cargo that moved into and out of the Toledo port, about one metric ton of sediment left the channel. (Last year, 10.4 million metric tons of cargo were handled at the port.)
But with climate change, the equation is almost certain to get more complex and more expensive, say scientists and port managers. More mid-winter snow melts and rainstorms — and more frequent heavy rainfalls, especially in spring — may lead to higher soil-erosion rates, meaning that Great Lakes rivers are likely to carry more soil into harbors. Higher air temperatures already are warming the Great Lakes, blocking ice from forming, and increasing rates of evaporation that may lead to lower lake levels.”
Follow the link above to read the complete article on these potential consequences for the Great Lakes, the shipping and transportation industry, and the communities that rely on these resources.
June 12th, 2012 by Irene Miles
One of the unsung agencies that is heavily involved in restoring coastal ecosystems just happens to be one of the biggest and most crucial – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their Ecosystem Restoration Program are heavily involved in planning, developing, and executing projects that restore damaged ecosystems and areas and provide environmental benefits to communities, including several projects in and around the Great Lakes.
“The USACE works to restore degraded ecosystems to a more natural condition through large-scale ecosystem restoration projects, such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration, Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration, Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Beneficial Use of Dredged Material (restoration of marsh critical to the endangered Whooping Crane), and Houston Ship Channel Beneficial Use of Dredged Material (marsh restoration in Galveston Bay), and by employing system-wide watershed approaches to problem solving and management for smaller ecosystem restoration projects.”
Read more about this terrific program and about the substantial work that goes into these projects at the article linked above.
The report combines study and information of a wide range of factors in order to provide appropriate recommendations for planning the community’s use of water.
From the Metropolitan Planning Council’s website:
is the culmination of one year of cooperative work, from March 2011 through March 2012, between the Village of Lake Zurich and a project team led by Metropolitan Planning Council in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Through MPC’s Community Building Initiative, the team also convened a 13-member task force consisting of volunteer members with expertise in ecology, economics, engineering, law, planning, and utility management, to assist and advise the project team.”
The report not only provides information to water planners and local officials in Lake Zurich, but can be a model for other communities, laying out a variety of factors to consider and ways to meet the needs of customers while planning for the future.
The complete report is available for download at the link above.