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Avoiding water shortages

Even within the Lake Michigan region, many municipalities are reaching their limit on water withdrawals under the international Great Lakes Compact.

With growing development, Illinois faces growing demands on its water supply. Proper planning — and consideration of water management issues in land use and development decisions — is required to avoid water shortages in coming decades, said Mandy Burrell of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

MPC is sponsoring “Beyond Showerheads and Sprinklers,” a conference on water governance in Illinois, along with Openlands and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. It takes place this Friday, May 16, at the Union Club.

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Conservation Groups Boycott Bottler

Michigan groups concerned about removing water from the Great Lakes water basin and privatizing public resources are pushing a boycott of Ice Mountain bottled water.

“Our goal is to chase Ice Mountain out and to educate people on the issue of bottled water, which is always bad for the environment,” said Marie Mason of the Sweetwater Alliance.

Owned by Nestle Waters, Ice Mountain has a state permit to remove 400 million gallons a year from a Mecosta County spring feeding the Muskegon River, which flows into Lake Michigan; Nestle pays nothing for the water. Mason said Ice Mountain is planning another bottling operation in Michigan and other water bottling corporations are watching the situation.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has backed off her earlier opposition to the bottling plant; as attorney general she had said the project should trigger federal safeguards against diverting water from the Great Lakes basin which require approval by all Great Lakes governors.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation has sued Nestle seeking to block pumping of groundwater under state water and public trust law. Closing arguments are scheduled for September 9 and 10 at the Mecosta County Circuit Court in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Water District Doesn’t Disinfect

As officials study the rising number of bacteria-related swimming bans, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District continues dumping sewage into Chicago waterways without disinfecting it.

The MWRD is the only major metropolitan water agency that doesn’t disinfect its waste, said Laurel O’Sullivan of the Lake Michigan Federation. The District removes solids and sanitizes wastewater, but agencies in virtually every other U.S. city go one step further: they also disinfect using chlorinization or ultra violet technology to destroy bacteria, she said.

Overflows into riverways from large storms bypass treatment plants, and during “extreme” storm events locks are opened and river system water is released into Lake Michigan.

In Mayor Daley’s new Water Agenda, the city has pledged to “work with the MWRD to end the practice of discharging untreated wastewater into Lake Michigan” — but it hasn’t addressed the issue of disinfecting wastewater during routine treatment.

“There is undoubtedly bacteria from the waterways system getting into the lake,” said O’Sullivan. “The overall quality of the water sent out to the lake would be much higher if they disinfected.”

While Friends of the Chicago River, the Lake Michigan Federation, and the Sierra Club have raised the issue for years, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recently started a study of increased recreational use of the Chicago River system, asking whether water quality standards need to be increased.

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