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EDITORIAL: Let’s stop wasting water that can be put to good uses

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Here’s a win-win notion.

A carwash captures rainwater to clean vehicles. The rainwater replaces water from municipal supplies, so no one has to pay to treat and transport drinking-quality water just to spray it on Fords and Chevys.

You can do things like that in 38 states. But not in Illinois, unless you feel like hiring a licensed engineer and going through an expensive and time-consuming permit process.

It’s time to get our state on the right side of this issue.

EDITORIAL

A proposal to make it easier to use so-called  “gray” water — water that isn’t of drinking quality but that can safely be used for industrial and other purposes — is on so-called first-notice status in the Illinois Department of Public Health before it heads to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for final approval. The rules would set standards and tell people what is required to install such systems, so they won’t have to go the state for approval.

Environmental groups have signed off on the proposal, and supporters say such “water harvesting” could save $1 billion a year around the state.

We were here before, in 2013, ready to approve the use of non-potable water, when backroom infighting killed the deal. We shouldn’t let that happen again.

In Texas, many people capture the water from their showers and sinks, treat it and use it to irrigate their lawns. Other arid states in the West allow similar things.

But in Illinois, we keep using drinking water to flush toilets, wash our cars and water our lawns. We’re fine with that because we are a water-rich state. But environmentalists point to Atlanta, which last year experienced a sudden widespread water shortage because of problems in its water distribution system. We would be wise to get the infrastructure in place now to make better use of our water.

Triton College in west suburban River Grove, for one, went through the cumbersome existing permit process to harvest water. In 2014, the college started capturing storm water on site in a huge underground tank, treating it and using it to water its athletic fields. The system was designed to save more than 3 million gallons of water a year.

The proposed rules now under consideration would make it easier for other users — from large factories down to individual homeowners — to install similar systems. Many large property owners already are required by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to hold rainwater on site for a period of time to prevent overloading of sewers. Why not make it easy for those property owners to put that water to other uses?

The proposed rules wouldn’t force anyone to do anything. They would just make it easier for people to put non-potable water to good use.

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