Awareness Matters

Chicago has been my home for almost 12 years. A stroll along the lakefront offers visitors and residents alike a unique mix of history and progress. Both famous and infamous buildings stand side by side sketching its familiar city skyline.

Most visitors—and surprisingly, residents—are completely unaware that immediately next to Navy Pier, the city’s lakefront landmark that draws more than 8 million visitors per year, is the overlooked James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant, the largest conventional treatment plant in the world. The Jardine plant, along with the South Water Purification Plant, serves nearly 5 million consumers in the city of Chicago and 118 surrounding suburbs. It draws raw water from water intake cribs offshore in Lake Michigan, processing close to 1 billion gal of water per day.

Similar to other facilities around the country, the Jardine plant is faced with an array of challenges, including pending legislative developments, environmental issues and of course, population growth.

Having access to the fifth-largest lake in the world does not make the plant exempt from rising demand for water. In an interview with WWD Associate Editor Caitlin Cunningham, John F. Spatz, Jr., commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM), said that the overall population of Chicago and surrounding communities is expected to increase by 1.3 million by 2050 (see Industry Insight Q&A on page 82). Like other places around the U.S., Chicago addresses rising water demand by promoting water conservation. Although conservation is not the Holy Grail for meeting demands, it helps address water challenges and increases water availability.

Unfortunately, educating consumers about the importance of water conservation is sometimes more difficult in areas of the country where frequent rainfall results in flooded streets and basements. This is where public education and outreach programs seem to make a big difference.

For example, Chicago’s DWM offers a MeterSave program that installs water meters in the homes of nonmetered Chicago homeowners. With minimal effort, participating homeowners can save money on water bills while at the same time help to protect Lake Michigan and save water. To encourage participation in the program, homeowners are eligible for a seven-year guarantee that their home water bill will not exceed the amount they would owe if the meter was not installed. The program also offers participants other incentives such as a rain barrel, an outdoor or indoor water conservation kit, etc. Eye-catching posters on Chicago buses and trains also help drive public awareness.

It is programs like these that not only help educate the public, but also act as the driving force behind facilities looking to gain the support of their customers to implement other changes that will have a long-term positive impact. Without these public outreach programs, no one will ever know what goes on behind the gates of that big, heavily guarded building next to Navy Pier.

Next month, June 20 to 24, Chicago will welcome AWWA’s ACE10. In addition to the impressive list of presentations, workshops and more than 500 exhibitors, the event offers attendees the opportunity to tour technical facilities within the Chicago area, including the James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant. For more information on the upcoming event, visit www.awwa.org.

Neda Simeonova is editorial director of Water & Wastes Digest. Simeonova can be reached at 847.391.1011 or by e-mail at nsimeonova@sgcmail.com.

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