Evanston sustainable programs discusses water conservation

Amanda Gilbert

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Evanston and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning presented an efficiency program that would conserve the city’s water during a public hearing at Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Thursday night.

The meeting aimed to alert Evanston residents to the city’s water use and supply issues as well as gather feedback on the city’s Water Efficiency Program, said Catherine Hurley, the city’s sustainable programs coordinator.

CMAP is working with city staff to develop a plan for improving Evanston residents’ and businesses’ water efficiency effort, she added.

“Based on the recommendations from this meeting and other online comments, we will add to and update the draft,” Hurley said. “We hope to complete the draft and present it to the city council by the end of May.”

Evanston resident Alison PaulCat recommended providing cultural education to residents on native landscaping by changing widespread standards of how residential landscaping should appear.

“We don’t need to irrigate in this region as much as we do,” PaulCat said. “We need to create a new desire for how the lawn appears that is more cost-efficient.”

Hurley agreed, adding that education and advertisement is a key aspect to helping people understand how they can save energy in their homes while saving money.

“We could make some jazzy communication pieces put together that showcase the idea that brown is the new green,” Hurley said in reference to the current cultural standard for overwatered green lawns. “This is what people should be aspiring for.”

Resident Sue Carlson suggested taking extra steps to stem the practice of overwatering lawns, recommending that Evanston residents report violations of excessive or inappropriate water usage.

“When we’re talking about efficiency in buildings, one of the things some of us have started doing is going around and taking pictures of people who were spraying water in the rain,” Carlson said.

Hurley agreed with Carlson, adding that watering outdoor lawns represents the most inefficient type of water use in the city. She said a lot of people have watering schedules and feel that they need to water according to that schedule regardless of the weather.

“I’m driving around and seeing a lot of people’s water systems going on when it’s raining,” Hurley said. “That’s the thing we need to address.”

Hurley said the program wants to create an information campaign allowing residents to learn about how much water they are using and when it is necessary for them to water.

“People use an average of about 60 gallons of water per day in Evanston,” Hurley said. “We need people to become aware of that and realize when they do not have to use water.”

Associate planner Amy Talbot said she hoped businesses would also become a part of the city’s overall water efficiency initiative. She said she wants all food-related busineses in Evanston to use pre-rinse spray valves, a type of adjustable hand-held hose, to clean food containers more efficiently.

“These valves would allow residents to rinse all the food off with hose that uses less water,” Talbot said. “This small change would save a lot on water and money for businesses without forcing residents to change their behavior.”

She also presented results from a water-tasting test carried out before the meeting, which asked residents to guess whether they were drinking tap water or bottled water. None of the four residents present were able to identify one from another.

“You can’t really tell the difference between the two different types of waters,” Talbot said. “So why would you spend the extra money if they taste the same?”

Talbot and Carlson agreed the main purpose of the meeting was outreach and education, saying that people need to know how they are wasting water and how they can make lifestyle changes in order to conserve resources.

“Water and air are the most important things that we need to live,” Carlson said. “We need to know that they are important here and we need to use them properly.”