Abundant and high quality water resources play an essential role in sustaining economic prosperity and environmental health in our seven-county region. While Lake Michigan and groundwater aquifers currently provide clean water, their capacity to serve the region's needs is not limitless. In addition, many of the region's waterways have been degraded by development practices that have disrupted the natural water cycle.
As the Chicago region grows, it is critical that water and natural resources are conserved and used efficiently. GO TO 2040, the regional comprehensive plan, supports an integrated approach to water resource planning. This involves actions that protect and enhance water quality and quantity at all parts of the water cycle. Water resource planning at CMAP generally falls along three tracks -- water supply, water quality, and stormwater management, though it is clear that water resource planning and management are interrelated. CMAP led the development and coordinates implementation of Water 2050: Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply/Demand Plan, which was produced in 2010 in conjunction with the Regional Water Supply Planning Group of regional stakeholders. Water 2050 is the official water supply/demand plan for an 11-county northeastern Illinois planning area -- the CMAP region of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will, along with Boone, DeKalb, Grundy, and Kankakee counties.
As the designated agency for Areawide Water Quality Planning in the region, CMAP is also engaged in a variety of water quality planning activities that include watershed planning, nonpoint source management, wastewater planning, volunteer lake monitoring program, and other work that supports the objectives of the Clean Water Act. CMAP is also working to advance stormwater management and flood prevention by better integrating best practices into land use and transportation planning decisions.
At the national level, Illinois is a party to the Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact), a binding agreement between the eight Great Lakes states to protect, conserve, restore, improve, and manage the renewable but finite water resources of the Great Lakes Basin for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of all basin citizens. The Compact does not supplant a U.S. Supreme Court Decree under which Illinois' diversion of Lake Michigan is governed. Yet Illinois is obligated to comply with the Compact's water conservation and efficiency programs provision to promote "Environmentally Sound and Economically Feasible Water Conservation Measures." This includes any measures that promote the efficient use of water, application of sound planning principles, and demand-side and supply-side measures or incentives.
Water and GO TO 2040
Water resources play a critical, yet often overlooked, role in sustaining economic prosperity and environmental health in our seven-county region. Though Lake Michigan provides an excellent source of high quality affordable drinking water, the lake's capacity to serve the region's needs is limited by legal constraints that preclude ever-increasing demands on this resource. Furthermore, the infrastructure used to distribute drinking water has seen long-term underinvestment in many places, leading to significant waste of water through leakage. In addition, some parts of the region face increasing expenses, environmental consequences, and potential long-term depletion of groundwater resources. Thus, conservation and efficient use of water is a top priority for GO TO 2040.
GO TO 2040 is informed by the previously developed Water 2050 and thus, recommends a number of actions to better conserve and manage water resources, including a variety of water conservation measures such as using more efficient appliances in homes or using full cost water pricing by utilities. Water conservation goals should be integrated with land use planning, including preservation of open space in aquifer recharge areas and using green infrastructure to manage stormwater, among other activities. Shifting groundwater dependent communities to surface water supplies and consolidating some of the region's water utilities is also recommended by GO TO 2040.
At the same time, the region is often concerned about too much water, not too little. With broad floodplains and typically clayey soils, northeastern Illinois is flood prone. The increased runoff from impervious areas like roofs, streets, and parking lots compared with farm fields, prairies, and woodlands means that flooding will be worse, since more rainfall will be converted to runoff. Many areas – especially the watersheds of the Des Plaines and Little Calumet Rivers, but others as well – are threatened by flooding, which is exacerbated by historic development patterns and lack of detention storage.
GO TO 2040 calls for integrating land use policies and site planning with water resources and identifies watershed planning as an essential tool to identify water resource problems and evaluate retrofit projects to address them, whether the problem is flooding or poor water quality or loss of habitat. Watershed plans, which often feature the most comprehensive natural resources inventory available for most areas, consider multi-objective projects to reduce point- and nonpoint-source pollution, improve aquatic habitat, and reduce control flooding. GO TO 2040 identifies the need for county stormwater ordinances to not just rely on detention, but also to reduce the runoff volume, as well as make a commitment to using green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The plan also recognizes the need to develop sustainable sources of financing for stormwater retrofits and to provide performance data to stormwater managers.
GO TO 2040 recommends a number of interrelated actions to better conserve and manage water resources, organized by four subject areas:
- Support water use conservation efforts
- Integrate land use policies and site planning with water resources
- Encourage watershed planning and stormwater infrastructure retrofits
- Optimize water and energy sources and scale of operation.