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Sustainable Cities:

Chicago’s Water Works

May 2, 2005 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service


Chicago is becoming the Great Lakes’ most sustainable city.

When Chicago Mayor Richard Daley made water stewardship a citywide priority, critics said business would suffer, taxes would rise, and jobs would run. As it turns out, the critics were exactly wrong.

“The situation is much clearer today,” Mayor Daley told a conference of Great Lakes mayors in 2004. “We have learned that protecting the environment makes sense both economically and politically. We’ve learned over the past 15 years that you can actually save money on taxes, business, and household expense by basically paying attention to the environment.”

The city’s campaign to promote sustainable water use is a prime example. Chicago issued its Water Agenda 2003 to guide public decisions about water resource management. The plan’s top priorities include educating citizens about the importance of the Great Lakes, improving urban stormwater management, and safeguarding water quality for drinking, recreation, and commerce.

The plan also emphasizes conservation. The city launched a five-year, $620 million capital campaign to replace 50 miles of old, leaking water mains each year. When finished, the effort is expected to save 120 million gallons of water daily. That is 12 percent of the approximately one billion gallons the city purifies for its residents every day.
The city also began auditing industrial water users and providing interest-free loans to implement recommendations made to them. So far, inspections at 12 Chicago-area businesses have revealed they could save a total of 130 million gallons of water annually. That equals a financial savings of $158,600 in purchase costs, based on the city’s 2003 water rates, and an additional $131,000 in related disposal fees.

The conservation strategy also pays off for taxpayers and helps government function more efficiently by reducing the city water department’s operating expenses. “For every 20 percent reduction in city water consumption we see a $1.2 to $1.4 million savings due to decreased energy and treatment costs,” said Joe Deal, a special assistant to Mayor Daley.

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