April Bringing Cleaner Water to Illinois?

April showers may be bringing more than May flowers for sustainable water policy in Illinois, as the legislature is considering adoption of several bills that will expand opportunities for green infrastructure statewide. Passage of these bills would be the beginning of a new season for green practices to capture the extraordinary value of clean water in our state.

The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act (SB 1489), CNT’s effort to bring the benefits of natural systems for sustainable stormwater management into state plans, is headed for its first hearing in the Illinois House on Wednesday, April 29, having passed the Senate in March. That bill would instruct Illinois EPA to lead a study to establish state standards and goals for expanded, effective use of green infrastructure in urban areas statewide.

Senate Bill 32, also having passed the Senate, looks at opening another largely untapped opportunity for Illinois – the use of harvested rainwater from rain barrels and cisterns. Current state rules largely prohibit the use of captured rainwater, or greywater from sinks and showers, for non-potable uses like toilet flushing, even though research nationally shows little health threat from such use. Expanding grey or reclaimed water use can offset filtered potable tap water for toilets, laundry, and irrigation, reducing withdrawals from lakes, rivers, and acquifers, leaving more water in its natural state while reducing energy required to clean, pump, and treat potable water. This bill would instruct the state Department of Health to write regulations for rain water harvesting, with the potential to clear away barriers to effective conversion of roof runoff from a waste to a resource.

CNT is working to encourage these and other policies to expand use of green infrastructure and related water conservation practices. The second half of the legislature will tell how far Illinois can shift state priorities toward water sustainability in coming months.