Sharing is Caring: An Ode to Sustaining Our Freshwater Resources

by Lacy Reyna for SUST 240

Freshwater is a key component to life on Earth. Why is it, then, that many individuals continue to use (and waste) this precious resource without any care or thought behind such mindless consumption? Perhaps it is because many people do not feel the effects of the scarcity of fresh water; therefore, have a lack of empathy for those who do. At the same time, it could also be that individuals are simply not aware of the importance in conserving the freshwater sources we currently have. Whichever it may be, freshwater is in higher demand than ever, and we need to do all we can to reduce, reuse, and recycle this essential resource. The wastefulness of freshwater consumption is especially apparent in urban environments, where so much concrete exists that little water is absorbed into the ground.

Here in Chicago, rainwater runoff is more severe due to lack of absorbent land and an abundance of concrete (contrary to popular belief, concrete does a poor job of soaking up water). Instead, much of the rain that falls to the ground ends up in extensive systems that carry the water to one of several wastewater treatment plants before the treated effluent is released into the Chicago River and other streams. Because the water does not infiltrate the ground well in urban areas, more water ends up in the river and streams much faster than it should, which results in greater and more severe flooding. Not only that, but the quality of runoff is compromised by various surface pollutants and can be difficult to remediate once it has hit the sewer system. While water treatment plants do their best to treat the water before discharging it into waterways toward the ocean, rain barrels and other “green infrastructure” strategies are gaining ground as a popular conservation effort.

Many homeowners have adopted the use of rain barrels in order to reduce the amount of rainwater runoff in the city. These devices allow individuals to collect rainwater and release it into their yards at a controlled pace. That way, the rainwater has a better opportunity to infiltrate the groundwater. The City of Chicago partnered with Center for Neighborhood Technology on the initiative of Rain Ready, which offers a myriad of solutions to reducing rainwater runoff.

In addition to the loss of rainwater in urban environments, freshwater that runs down the drain of a shower that is warming up, down the sink as you’re brushing your pearly whites in the morning, and down the hose from your laundry machine is also wasted water that eventually ends up in Chicago’s river system — but it doesn’t have to be that way. These are all examples of water that could be saved and reused rather than flowing away from the city.

Depiction of a simple set up of an in-home grey water re-use system. Source: http://www.rainwindsun.com/faqs/grey-water.html

Depiction of a simple set up of an in-home grey water re-use system. Source: http://www.rainwindsun.com/faqs/grey-water.html

Many people are now becoming aware of the concept of grey water reuse. Grey water is defined as any domestically produced wastewater, with the exception of sewage. This water may be collected with the use of buckets or more complex systems, depending on the type of water waste and how it will be used. In capturing this water, water consumption is reduced, water bills are cut, and a more sustainable future is created.

Available freshwater can be considered a finite resource, but we can ensure everyone gets their share by taking the appropriate steps to reduce, reuse and recycle our part of the whole.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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