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Openlands Applauds Efforts to Make Rainwater Harvesting Easier in Illinois

June 5, 2013


Rainwater harvesting, capturing rainwater and reusing it for non-potable (non-drinkable) uses such as watering lawns or flushing toilets, has the potential to generate a variety of benefits for property owners and communities. Proposed new rules would make it easier for property owners and businesses in Illinois to take advantage of these benefits. You can make your voice heard about the new rules during the current public comment period.

Rainwater harvesting relieves strain on water supplies and infrastructure while saving money for utility customers (who pay to have drinking water treated and delivered to homes or businesses). Rainwater harvesting also reduces stormwater runoff, easing capacity strains on our combined sewer systems and reducing pollution that runs into our waterways. This, in turn, helps prevent the kind of flooding and unwanted, costly basement back-ups that the Chicago region suffered most recently in April.

This simple and scalable practice could have a dramatic impact on water conservation if every property owner in Illinois captured and recycled the thousands of gallons of water that fall onto properties every year. Graywater reuse, air conditioning condensate, and reclaimed effluent are also viable water sources for non-potable uses that have been tapped into elsewhere in the country, especially by water-thirsty western states like California, Arizona, and Texas. But due to provisions in the Illinois plumbing code, installing alternative water recycling systems has not been allowed in Illinois without acquiring a time-consuming variance. 

Knowing the benefits of water reuse in conserving our region’s water supply, Openlands and the Metropolitan Planning Council have advocated over the last five years to update the plumbing code. Thanks to sponsorship support from Illinois House Representative Carol Sente (D-Lincolnshire) and former Illinois Senator Susan Garrett (D-Highwood), a bill was successfully passed in 2012 that established a deadline for the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to amend the plumbing code’s standards to reflect advances in methods that conserve and efficiently use water resources and protect public health and safety. 

In response to this directive, the Plumbing Advisory Council of IDPH got to work on drafting new amendments. The Metropolitan Planning Council facilitated a stakeholder group that met with the Advisory Council to share input during the drafting phase, and Openlands, along with other environmental groups, engineers, utility representatives, and union representatives, among others, were at the table to participate in this collaborative process.  

On April 26, IDPH released its proposed modernizations to the Illinois Plumbing Code, beginning a 45-day public comment period. Openlands is pleased that the Department’s proposed changes allow the use of alternative water supplies, like rainwater harvesting, that would mark a pragmatic step forward for water efficiency and conservation in Illinois’s plumbing standards. The rule changes, if approved by the Judicial Committee on Administrative Rules, the final decision-maker, would allow property owners to streamline their water reuse efforts. The collective effect of water reuse would help conserve our regional water supply, reduce stormwater runoff, and enable Illinois to become a market leader in the Great Lakes region for these types of water reuse plumbing systems.

The IDPH welcomes your input on the process, and you can review the proposed plumbing code changes in the Illinois Register (Note: The relevant amendments begin on p. 5309 of the document, which is page 108/562 of the PDF). Share your support by sending written comments to:

Susan Meister
Division of Legal Services
Illinois Dept. of Public Health
535 W. Jefferson St., 5th floor
Springfield, Illinois 62761
e-mail: dph.rules@illinois.gov

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