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Two Pieces of Legislation Expand Non-Potable Water Usage in Illinois
Historically, the northeastern Illinois region has been considered water rich, and scarcity has been a minor issue. The region is bordered by Lake Michigan, one of the largest reservoirs of fresh water in the world, from which almost four-fifths of the people in the Chicago area receive their drinking water. Yet water supplies are not unlimited, and significant demand for drinking water has been placed on sources that may be unable to sustain it in the long term, especially considering that our seven counties' population is expected to grow by more than 2 million new residents by 2040. To better manage our demand for water, it's important to find efficiencies through expanded uses of non-drinking quality water, such as rainwater and stormwater. Two pieces of state legislation support such efficiencies.
The pending SB 38 would require the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to update the state's plumbing code to allow for rainwater re-use in non-potable indoor applications, such as for toilets. The legislation is currently stalled over disagreements in where the upgrades in the plumbing code would take place and whether the legislation itself is too narrowly focused. However, reusing rainwater for non-potable purposes is an important and necessary step in helping to manage water demand, and it would also yield substantial stormwater runoff and management benefits. SB 38 directly supports the GO TO 2040 recommendation to promote rainwater harvesting for non-potable indoor uses, which states that local governments should ensure that existing regulations do not prohibit the indoor handling of rainwater.
Another important piece of legislation was introduced in the spring session as HB 248, which was signed into law on August 23 as Public Act 97-0500. It lets the North Shore Sanitary District (NSSD) sell or transfer recycled wastewater to identified partners for non-consumptive uses. This sustainable, environmentally-friendly reclaimed wastewater can be used for large-scale irrigation. For example, the reclaimed wastewater can now be used to maintain parks and golf courses, which otherwise would use large amounts of drinking-quality water. Reclaimed wastewater is ideal for non-potable uses.
The need to manage our water demand, in part by finding efficiencies through expanded use of non-potable water, is highlighted in the Water 2050 northeastern Illinois regional water supply/demand plan. CMAP led the plan's development, a three-year effort completed in January 2010, which was overseen by a diverse group of stakeholders. The process resulted in a highly specific plan intended to ensure a balance of water demand and supplies through 2050, serving as the basis for GO TO 2040's recommendations related to managing and conserving water. Rather than treating water as an unlimited resource -- which it is not -- our region should recognize that its water supply is finite and promote a balance between water supply and demand. Encouraging expanded uses of non-potable water is an increasingly important strategy.