Water cycle 1


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Water cycle 1

  1. 1. Special ReportWater: Demand & SupplyBy Jerry DennisThe water supply of the Chicago region is not infinite. How can we preserve this vitalnatural resource?In this special report, Chicago Wilderness examines freshwater needs for people andnature.In an age when more than a billion people around the world lack access to safe drinkingwater, Chicago appears to sit on the hydrological version of Easy Street. Other majorcities must rely on elaborate and expensive systems of tunnels, flumes, canals, andreservoirs to draw freshwater from sources so distant that inhabitants of those cities mightnever see them. Many have no idea where their water comes from.Not so in Chicago. Here the source is plain to see. Lake Michigan defines the physicalboundaries of the region, shapes its identity, and fuels much of its commerce, recreation,aesthetics, and even weather. This vast lake, part of the largest freshwater system on thesurface of the planet, built Chicago.Lake Michigan and its four sister lakes contain nearly 5,500 cubic miles of water, orroughly 18 percent of the world’s entire supply of unfrozen surface freshwater. LakeMichigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume, with 1,180 cubic miles ofwater (the largest, Lake Superior, at 2,900 cubic miles, is exceeded in volume only byRussia’s Lake Baikal).In surface area Lake Michigan covers 22,300 square miles, making it slightly smallerthan Lake Huron and about 10,000 square miles smaller than Lake Superior. Altogether,the Great Lakes cover nearly 95,000 square miles, an area larger than England, Wales,Scotland, and Northern Ireland combined. If all the water in the five lakes could bedistributed uniformly across the land, it would transform the lower 48 states into a vastlake ten feet deep.Chicago’s thirst is prodigious. Every day nearly a billion gallons of water is withdrawnfrom Lake Michigan for use in the Greater Chicago region.
  2. 2. Millions of people are accustomed to looking out on a gigantic lake that stretches to thehorizon. Many of us dont think twice about drawing on this seemingly limitless source offreshwater.It’s a lot of water, and good thing: Chicago’s thirst is prodigious. Every day nearly abillion gallons of water—921.62 million gallons, to be precise—is withdrawn from LakeMichigan for use in the Greater Chicago region. About 324 million of those gallons goesto residents of the city for drinking water and other domestic uses. Another 145 milliongallons is consumed by manufacturing and commercial customers. Slightly more than 21million gallons is earmarked for municipal buildings and schools, and almost 93 millionis used for fire-fighting, street-sweeping, construction projects, and other miscellaneouspurposes. The remaining 340 million gallons of each day’s supply is piped to the suburbs.Photo (right): Lynda WallisMost of the water drawn from Lake Michigan is delivered through the James W. JardineWater Purification Plant, the largest facility of its kind in the world. Located on thelakefront at the end of E. Ohio Street (it’s the massive structure dominating the pieradjacent to Navy Pier), the plant has a capacity of more than a million gallons of waterper minute. Jardine and a smaller facility, the South Water Filtration Plant at 79th andLake Michigan, dispense purified water via tunnel systems to 12 pumping stationsthroughout the city, which in turn distribute it to neighborhoods and suburbs.
  3. 3. By any standard, it’s an impressive accomplishment. Each day, water is collected fromthe lake, filtered, chemically treated, and pumped through a 4,227-mile-long system ofsubterranean pipes that rivals the human circulatory system for complexity, to ensure thatevery time we turn the handle of a faucet, flush a toilet, switch on a washing machine, oractivate a fire hydrant, we are rewarded with a flow of safe water. Plenty of water. Asmuch as we want.Water purificationThe Jardine Water Purification Plant, just north of Navy Pier, can process more than amillion gallons of water per minute.Photo: Photo: Barry Peterson / Chicago PerspectivesBut is the supply truly limitless? Can we be certain it will remain clean? What of thoseparts of the region that depend solely on groundwater — are those supplies diminishing,or secure? How much is enough for people and healthy ecosystems?Last August I journeyed from my home in Traverse City, Michigan, to Chicago withthose questions in mind, to see for myself how the city and its metropolitan region, thelargest by far on the Great Lakes, uses — and misuses — the nearly unimaginable bountyof freshwater at its doorstep. With so much water so near at hand, perhaps it’s humannature to be cavalier about it, a tendency which might help explain why the Chicago areawas identified in 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council as tenth on the list ofAmerican metropolitan areas that waste the most water. Much of the waste in recentdecades has been in the form of runoff from thousands of acres of asphalt parking lots,but leaking water mains and other faults in the infrastructure have also been to blame.
  4. 4. Natural wetlandsChicago was named for the nodding wild onion that grew in profusion along theriverbanks. Skokie is a Native American term for “marsh.” Most of Chicago Wildernesshad a natural abundance of ephemeral ponds, bogs, marshes, streams, rivers, and allmanner of muck.Photo: Dave JagodzinskiChicago’s relationship with water has always been complex. For many years there wassimply too much of it.The Flow of HistoryChicago’s relationship with water has always been complex. For many years there wassimply too much of it. From its beginnings, the young city, built on wetlands at the mouthof the Chicago River, was regularly inundated by lake storms. In spring the river filledthe streets, and in winter, as the visiting Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in 1853, “it rains &thaws incessantly, &, if we step off the short street, we go up to the shoulders, perhaps, inmud....” Hundreds of rivers, creeks, bogs, swamps, lakes, and lagoons encircling thesouthern end of Lake Michigan overflowed according to the whims of wind, weather, andseason. The city was rarely dry until the mid-1800s, when a series of city ordinancesdecreed that buildings be lifted and back-filled to as much as 14 feet above their originallevel. Only when the streets and sidewalks were raised to match those new heights was itpossible to construct underground water and sewage systems.Those early systems were far from adequate, however. During the 70 years in which thecity grew from a minor trading post to the metropolitan capital of mid-America, its waterand waste problems grew at an even greater pace. For decades a reeking torrent of rawsewage, stockyard runoff, and industrial effluence poured into the Chicago River andLake Michigan, poisoning the city’s primary source of drinking water.When water meets civilizationMany of our current problems with flooding stem from paving so much of our regionwith impermeable surfaces. We leave rainwater no good place to go.
  5. 5. Photo: Phyllis CernyPhoto: Kim Karpeles/Life Through the LensThe short-term strategy had always been to reach farther into the lake in search of cleanwater. Over the years, intake pipes and tunnels were extended from 140 feet to 600 feet toa full two miles; still the water remained fouled. Spring run-offs and heavy rainscontinued to flood the Chicago River, often pushing plumes of contamination far into thelake. To the eyes — and noses — of dissatisfied citizens, it appeared that the culprit allalong had been the river passing through the heart of the city.Sanitation concerns in the late 1800s led toreversal of the Chicago River, diverting waterdownstream from Lake Michigan. This flowof water “downstream” does not offsethuman-induced water losses in nearbyhabitats, such as Lockport Prairie.
  6. 6. 1 Reversing the River, 1894 To protect the drinking water supply for teeming Chicago, the Chicago River is reversed, sending polluted water to towns and cities downstream.2 Main channel extension The Lockport Powerhouse controls outflow of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and limits the diversion of water from the Lake Michigan Watershed into the Des Plaines River.3 Talk to your elected representatives Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve Groundwater is dropping due to development inland. Changes in surface and groundwater hydrology at this globally-rare habitat are adversely affecting rare species.4 Valuable wetlands Wetlands like those at the Lockport Prairie (shown below) also furnish essential ecosystem services: filtering water and air, recharging aquifers, providing habitat.Photos 2 and 4: ©MWRDGC2002-7, LoriVallelungaIn the 1980s, the water table had descended in an immense “cone of depression” as muchas 800 feet below historical levels.In 1889, the Illinois legislature created the Sanitary District of Chicago, whichimmediately authorized excavation to begin on a 28-mile-long system of canals and locksreaching from the South Branch of the Chicago River to Lockport, on the Des PlainesRiver. When completed in 1900, the Sanitary and Ship Canal produced an enormouseconomic benefit by allowing tugs, barges, and other vessels to transport bulk goods fromLake Michigan to the Mississippi River and back. It also solved Chicago’s old waste-disposal problem in a diabolically simple way: by reversing the flow of the ChicagoRiver. Now, instead of flushing the city’s wastes into Lake Michigan, the river sent it inthe opposite direction, out of sight and out of mind — to the Des Plaines, Illinois andMississippi Rivers. Residents of communities downstream were outraged by a suddenrush of water so polluted that fish could no longer live in it. But Chicago prospered.The Other WaterAlthough Lake Michigan has always been the primary and certainly the most visiblesource of water in the Chicago area, it has not been the only source. Throughout the 19thcentury, as communities spread inland from the lakeshore to areas where surface waterswere unsanitary or impractical to use, they drilled holes in the earth in search of water. Atfirst it was ridiculously easy to find. Any pipe pounded into the ground was almostcertain to strike a pressurized vein that shot a fountain many feet in the air. Ascommunities grew to the west and south of the Chicago lakefront, and as creeks andrivers became increasingly polluted, groundwater wells were drilled 700 to 1,500 feetinto the ground, to reach the abundant Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer. These wells were
  7. 7. often the most practical source of private and community water. In most places west ofthe subcontinental divide — the height of land that separates the Great Lakes andMississippi watersheds — they were the only choice.In the 1980s, studies of groundwater reserves in northeast Illinois revealed a disturbingfact: In the region centered around Chicago, where wells had for decades been pumpinggroundwater to the surface, the water table had descended in an immense “cone ofdepression” as much as 800 feet below historical levels. A quarter of that drawdown hadoccurred during the period of rapid suburban growth since 1971, when the rate ofrecharge of groundwater supplies had been slowed as wetlands, fields, and forests werecovered with asphalt and buildings. At the same time, more wells were withdrawinggreater volumes of water from both shallow and deep aquifers, until the rate ofwithdrawal had far surpassed the rate of natural infiltration and replenishment.Sedge meadows and marshes are part of the rich mosaic of ecosystems at MiddleforkSavanna in Lake County, IL. They provide valuable protection for rare species like theBlanding’s turtle—and splendid recreational opportunities for us.Photo: Mike MacDonald / ChicagoNature.comGroundwater is sometimes forgotten in discussions of the hydrologic cycle, that dynamicand complex system by which the same water has been circulating between the earth andthe sky since the planet’s infancy. At any moment a little more than 97 percent of Earth’s326 million cubic miles of water is contained in the oceans. The remaining three percentis fresh water, of which about 75 percent is locked up in -glaciers and polar ice sheets.Some of the rest fills lakes and rivers, circulates as vapor in the atmosphere, or cyclesthrough the bodies of plants and animals. Most of it, however — as much as two millioncubic miles worth, by some estimates — is stored beneath the surface of the earth in thewater-saturated sand, gravel, and porous rock we call aquifers. Some aquifers areconfined between layers of impermeable rock or clay, but many others circulate slowly,at rates of a few inches or a few feet in a year, slipping deeper underground or emergingon the surface as springs and seeps, and are constantly recharged by rain, snow, and othersurface waters infiltrating the soil. For centuries groundwater was assumed to be alimitless source. But when Chicago-area wells began drying up about 1900, it becameclear that wells were interrupting natural groundwater systems and withdrawing waterfaster than it could be replenished.
  8. 8. The hydrological cycle is the continuous movement of water over, above, and beneath the earth’s surface. As water moves, it changes between liquid, vapor, and ice. It can take seconds to thousands of years for water to move from one place to another. Despite continual movement, the amount of water on earth remains essentially constant. 1 Precipitation is condensed water vapor 5 Plants absorb water and release it that falls to the earth’s surface in the into the atmosphere via form of rain, snow, hail, and sleet. transpiration. Healthy ecosystems with a flourishing understory of wildflowers and grasses do a much better job of sequestering stormwater runoff than degraded ecosystems. 2 Infiltration is the flow of water from 6 Evaporation is the transformation the ground surface into the ground. of water from liquid to gas. The Once infiltrated, the water becomes source of energy for evaporation is soil moisture or groundwater. primarily solar radiation. 3 Subsurface flow is the movement of 7 Advection is the movement of water underground into and through water — in solid, liquid, or vapor bedrock. Groundwater tends to move states — through the atmosphere. slowly and is replenished slowly. It can Without advection, water that remain in deep aquifers for thousands evaporated over the oceans could of years. not precipitate over land. 4 Runoff includes the variety of ways 8 Condensation is the transformation that water moves across the land. As it of water vapor to liquid water flows, water may seep into the ground, droplets in evaporate into the air, become stored in the air, producing clouds and fog. lakes or reservoirs, or be pumped out for agricultural or other human uses.“In the late 1970s we were withdrawing up to three times the sustainable yield ofgroundwater in northeast Illinois,” says Dan Injerd, chief of the Lake MichiganManagement Section of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Theresulting cone of depression was so extreme that it began sucking surrounding
  9. 9. groundwater toward it, drawing it south from Wisconsin, west from Lake Michigan, andnorthwest from Indiana.The effect of those groundwater drawdowns on current water policy, Injerd says, “iscomplicated.” In the 1960s, after accusing Chicago and the state of Illinois of “waterthievery,” the seven other Great Lakes states and the U.S. Department of Justice filedsuit. In the eyes of the Great Lakes community, the Great Lakes are a single aquaticsystem, not a collection of separate lakes. Water robbed from Lake Michigan, therefore,is robbed as well from lakes Huron, Superior, Erie, Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River.The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1967 that Illinois couldwithdraw no more than 3,200 cubic feet per second — 2.1 billion gallons per day — fromLake Michigan. That volume, enough to fill five Sears Towers, included the amountsused for drinking water and other consumption as well as the water diverted from LakeMichigan into the Chicago River, which is controlled by locks under the jurisdiction ofthe Army Corps of Engineers.Managing that water is a daunting task. 50 to 55 percent of the daily allotment of 2.1billion gallons goes to domestic, commercial, and industrial needs. About 25 percent —some 525 million gallons a day — is directed from the lake into the Chicago River tomaintain navigable levels in the canal and lock systems. The remaining 20 to 25 percentof the state’s water budget is the estimated amount of stormwater runoff that leaves theGreat Lakes water basin and drains to the Mississippi. Why should Illinois be responsiblefor water that falls as rain and snow and drains away to the Gulf of Mexico? Because ifthe Chicago River had never been reversed, it would funnel the runoff from thatprecipitation into Lake Michigan, as it had for thousands of years, contributing to thewater budget of all five lakes and their connecting waters. The 1967 Supreme Courtruling saw this as a kind of water theft and determined that Illinois must make up thedifference.This green roof — topping the Apple store in Chicago — reduces stormwater runoff,cools the urban center, and makes for a better view.Photo: Douglas Hoerr Landscape ArchitectureFurthermore, under the terms of the ruling, Illinois must repay the debt of any LakeMichigan water the state uses in surplus of its daily allotment of 2.1 billion gallons.Likewise, if less than the allotted amount is used, the state may bank it. Illinois has avested interest, therefore, in water conservation, and supports and encourages Chicagoand every other community to save whatever amounts they can. Complications arisebecause keeping track of the amount of water used, done by the Army Corps ofEngineers, involves such varied and voluminous data that the results are always runningseveral years behind.“Based on the estimated diversions since 2001,” says Injerd, “we think we’ve repaid ourwater debt. But one of the problems we have to deal with is the time lag. We won’t knowuntil later this year where we stood in 2002.” A few years ago, Mayor Richard M. Daley put his signature to “Chicago’s Water Agenda 2003,” a
  10. 10. landmark strategy to ensure that the city maintained a safe, clean, and plentiful supply of drinkable water. Water conservation efforts are clearly paying off for Chicago. Figures provided by the Chicago Department of Water Management reveal that since 1990, water use in the city has declined from a high of 800 million gallons per day (mgd) to less than 600 million mgd in 2005, despite a population increase of approximately 65,000 people. Among the initiatives outlined in the mayors plan: 1 A five-year, $620 million program to restore and repair the water-supply system. Central to the plan is replacing 50 miles of leaking water mains per year, saving 120 million gallons of water every day. 2 Installing drinking fountains with on/off controls in public buildings. 3 Upgrading 43 swimming pools to recirculate their water (the Park District is responsible for upgrading another 10 pools). 4 Installing splash fountains that use recirculated water. 5 Disconnecting downspouts from directing stormwater into the sewers at Park District facilities, and using stormwater for irrigation and to recharge aquifers. 6 Studying the feasibility of installing waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets in city buildings. 7 Studying the possibility of using “gray water” to irrigate landscaping or for flush toilets. 8 Planting drought-tolerant native species that require less watering. 9 Encouraging industries to conserve water and energy through the Industrial Rebuild Program. Figures are not available for how much water Chicago-area industries consume, but the Chicago Department of the Environment reports that a growing number of industries are discovering the economic benefits of conservation. They cite the example of the Ford Motor Company’s plant at 130th and Torrence, which has reduced water usage by 40 percent, solid waste disposal by 60 percent, and electricity by 30 percent.That time lag makes it difficult for the state to determine how much water is available foroutlying communities that want to replace their groundwater systems with water fromLake Michigan. Deep-water aquifers have rebounded slightly in recent years, as wellshave declined in number, a trend that the Illinois DNR and other area water managers areeager to see continue. Injerd says that his department has virtually always granted permitsto Chicago’s collar communities that sought Lake Michigan water, as long as they coulddemonstrate that getting it would be cost-effective and would prevent significant amountsfrom being withdrawn from the deep aquifer. “Cost-effectiveness” is largely a matter ofdistance from the lake. Nearby communities, even those beyond the watershed boundary,have always been given priority.With the Chicago region’s population expected to rise by 1.5 million in the next 20 years,demand for Great Lakes water is certain to increase at an equal or greater rate. Most ofthe population growth, according to the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, isprojected for suburbs more than 30 miles from downtown Chicago. A spokesman for theChicago Department of Water Management reports that the city’s existing system of
  11. 11. filtration plants, pumping stations, and distribution network currently has “excesscapacity” to meet projected demands in the city and its nearby suburbs.But what if population increases at a higher than projected rate — if, for instance, globalclimate change results in mass migrations of people from desert and coastal regions to theGreat Lakes? I asked this question of Dr. Derek Winstanley, chief of the Illinois StateWater Survey, who is an expert in both water resources and climatology. “The WaterSurvey will be conducting studies that incorporate a wide range of possible futureconditions to 2050,” he says. “We call these scenarios rather than predictions, becausethey will state what likely will happen if we assume certain conditions. We cannot predictthe future,” Winstanley stresses, “but we will be able to lay out what could happen ifpopulation increases to different levels, if the economy grows at different rates, if water isconserved, and if climate changes. We will look at the impact of these possible conditionson the level of Lake Michigan, water diversion from Lake Michigan, groundwaterrecharge, streamflows, and water demand.”A planning agency forecast that 11 townships in five counties would experience severewater shortages by 2020, a number that may double by 2030.Regardless of whether population growth meets or exceeds the projected 1.5 million, themajority of growth will occur in communities in the outer rings around Chicago that willprobably need to rely on groundwater to meet their water needs. Already, many of thosecommunities have initiated water rationing, with restrictions on lawn irrigation, forinstance, during summer drought periods. But mere rationing might not be enough.The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission forecast in 2000 that 11 townships in fivecounties would experience severe water shortages by 2020, a number that may double by2030. Aurora and Elgin, both among the fastest-growing cities in Illinois, rely on the FoxRiver for their water. Can the Fox provide enough water to meet the need withoutreducing the base flow needed for aquatic life?Here are a few ways that you can save waterin your everyday life:1 Conserve at home. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator (a running faucet uses about two gallons of water per minute). Turn off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving. Install low-volume shower heads to save more than 2,000 gallons a month.2 Use appliances wisely. Adjust water levels to the size of the load in a washing machine or wash full loads only. Scrape dishes rather than rinse them before loading into a dishwasher. Replace old washing machines and dishwashers with water-saving “Energy Star” appliances.3 Maintain an efficient toilet. Check for leaks by adding food coloring in the tank and watching for the color to appear in the bowl. (A leak can waste 3,000 gallons a month). Reduce the amount used to flush by displacing tank water with two half- gallon plastic jugs filled with pebbles or water. Replace worn-out toilets with more efficient low-flush models that use less than 1.3 gallons of water per flush.4 Irrigate lawns and gardens sensibly. Water during the cool temperatures of early mornings to reduce evaporation, set sprinklers so that they water lawns and gardens but not streets and sidewalks, and
  12. 12. use soaker hoses and trickle irrigation to water trees and shrubs. Rain barrels are an excellent way to capture water that would otherwise enter the stormwater system and use it for irrigation.Photo: Phyllis CernySo many private wells have gone dry in Kane County’s Campton Township, that the U.S.Geological Survey was called in to produce a detailed computer model of aquifersbeneath the township. Armed with the results of the study — among the first of its kind inthe Midwest — the township will be able to restrict development only to those areas withsufficient groundwater to support new homes and businesses. Such restrictions arecommon in the arid west and southwest, but Campton Township is one of the firstcommunities east of the Mississippi to implement them. Kane County administratorshave taken the problem seriously enough to commission a five-year, $1.8 million study ofgroundwater reserves by the Illinois State Water and Geological Surveys. The study, dueto be released in 2007, will provide a three-dimensional map of all groundwater reservesbeneath the county and will be used as a tool for guiding the region’s expected growth.In Lake County, where proximity to Lake Michigan would seem to guarantee plenty ofwater, about 40 percent of residents, primarily in the western half of the county, stilldepend upon private and municipal wells. The director of planning, building, anddevelopment for Lake County, Philip Rovang, cites figures estimating that by the year2020, about 280,000 of his county’s residents will rely on groundwater. He points outthat the availability of an adequate supply is critical for economic development. “One keyquestion we always hear,” says Rovang, “is about water and waste treatment. If acommunity can assure a new business that the water supply is adequate, it could be adeciding factor in whether they locate here.”Increasingly, Rovang says, “we recognize the need for urgency in getting morecomprehensive information more quickly.” What if the population of Lake Countyincreases at a faster rate than anticipated? “We have a very good monitoring system,”says Rovang. “We can identify trends quickly, and would detect big changes inpopulation growth. Also, because we work closely with the 52 municipalities in thecounty, we would have the ability to respond right away to those pressures if theyoccurred. Lake County is a very attractive place to live and work, so I could easily see itspopulation increasing over what is projected.”Moreover, groundwater supplies and Lake Michigan are connected in ways that arecomplex and not yet completely understood. For instance, not only is Lake Michiganreplenished by rain and snow falling directly on it, but water flows in constantly fromtributaries that are themselves fed by groundwater and from seepage along the coasts.
  13. 13. According to Judy Beck, Lake Michigan Manager with the Environmental ProtectionAgency’s Great Lakes National Program Office, 79 percent of the water in LakeMichigan originates directly or indirectly as groundwater, more than any of the otherGreat Lakes. When communities dependent on groundwater pump ever more and everdeeper, this depletes not only their water supply, but also reduces the amount of rechargeto the lake. An infinite resource, it is not.New Berlin, Wisconsin, is a community that is bisected by the Lake Michigan watershed— half lies within the watershed (and is therefore entitled to lake water for its use) andhalf does not. “Pumping by many communities in southeast Wisconsin — includingMilwaukee when they used groundwater — has drawn down the deep aquifer so muchthat they are now mining old water,” Beck says, “which is often contaminated withnaturally occurring substances, such as radium or arsenic. They’re now not meeting EPAstandards for drinking water.” Indeed, Wisconsin just announced plans to hire anefficiency chief to coordinate water-saving measures statewide.Clearly the pressures to allow more use of Lake Michigan water for rapidly growingcommunities will only increase. Then there’s global climate change to consider.Scientists are already seeing some changes possibly attributable to climate change:reduced ice cover, for instance. “The ice cover on the lakes used to be major anddramatic,” explains Beck. “When the lakes are not covered with ice, we lose atremendous amount of water through evaporation.”Water is essential for sustaining all life — yet 1.2 billion people around the worldcurrently live without access to safe drinking water.Photo: Dave JagodzinskiAnother projection is that the Chicago region will experience more severe storms, thoughnot necessarily more rainfall. More severe storms mean that our sewer systems will beovertaxed, less rainwater will be able to infiltrate and recharge underground watersupplies, and we will lose more freshwater from rapid inflow to streams and rivers.Often overlooked in discussions about increasing human population and the pressure itbrings to bear on water resources, is its impact on wildlife. Water demand projections arebased on population growth and economic growth, explains Joyce O’Keefe, deputydirector of the Openlands Project. When do the absolute needs for the rest of nature getfactored in?A number of federal- and state-designated endangered species in the Chicago Wildernessregion are at risk should declining groundwater cause further reductions in alreadyreduced wetlands. Among them, the Hine’s emerald dragonfly is probably the mostimperiled. The dragonfly, which has brilliant green eyes, requires specific habitat: seepsof cold, calcium-rich groundwater emerging where dolomite limestone lies near thesurface. That habitat is found only along the Niagaran Escarpment, a dolomite remnant ofancient ocean beds that arcs from southern Lake Michigan, up the Door Peninsula ofWisconsin, across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, down Georgian Bay, and acrosssouthern Ontario to Niagara Falls.
  14. 14. “The challenge, as always, is how to satisfy both human needs and wildlife needs.”— John RognerIn Illinois the escarpment emerges only along the lower Des Plaines River, where, saysJohn Rogner, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the “bestexpression” of habitat suitable for the endangered dragonfly is in the dolomite prairie atWill County’s 254-acre Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve. The seeps and rivulets in thepreserve can support good numbers of the insect, but only as long as enough water ispresent on the surface. Although Rogner stresses that until a current study is complete,there’s no certainty that groundwater subsidence is affecting the volume of seeps in thepreserve, there’s indisputable evidence that in recent years the dragonfly’s habitat hasgrown increasingly desiccated.The construction of I-355 will cost more than $700 million — money that the ISTHAdoes not have — and will degrade habitat for these and other plants and animals.Tolls collected from I-355 users will only pay for about 35 percent of the cost. Therest will be subsidized by cash payers throughout the entire system. ISTHA sayscongestion relief is the goal, but failed to seriously consider viable alternatives likeroad and bridge widening, expanding Metra, and promoting alternativetransportation.Photos from top to bottom: 1. Black Partridge / Wood Ridge; 2. Keepataw ForestPreserve; 3. Spring Creek Corridor. All by Mike MacDonald / ChicagoNature.com.“It’s a grave cause for concern,” he says. “The Hine’s emerald dragonfly in this area isabsolutely dependent on a supply of groundwater seeping along the Des Plaines River. Ithappens that this same area is being rapidly developed, with much of the historicalrecharge area being paved over. Water that once infiltrated back into the aquifer is nowbeing directed to stormwater systems and flushed away through the Des Plaines. At thesame time, municipal water demands in the area are causing more wells to be sunk,putting further demands on the groundwater supply.”FWS, says Rogner, while working with various partners, including the Illinois StateGeological Survey, the Illinois State Water Survey, and local municipalities, hasidentified cones of depression surrounding municipal wells in areas near the LockportPreserve. The two municipalities closest to the Lockport Preserve, Crest Hill andRomeoville, are cooperating in various ways, including monitoring their groundwater useand planning new development sites so that as much water enters the ground afterdevelopment as did before. They might also consider digging deeper municipal wells tobypass the shallow aquifer that feeds surface seeps and tap into deep aquifers (a strategy
  15. 15. that would be complicated by the need to treat the deeper water for radiumcontamination, but might prove to be viable).“Both Crest Hill and Romeoville are on board,” says Rogner. “They view the Hine’sdragonfly and its habitat as community assets.” The potential tourist draw has inspiredRomeoville to make plans for an annual “Dragonfly Day” festival beginning in summer2007.Rogner is encouraged by such cooperation among communities and agencies but isworried, nonetheless, and not only about the Hine’s emerald dragonfly. Two federallyendangered plant species, the lakeside daisy and the leafy prairie clover, are also at risk,.“We see disturbing trends,” he says. “The challenge, as always, is how to satisfy bothhuman needs and wildlife needs.”One afternoon last August I rode in a car along Lake Shore Drive with Richard Lanyon,who is the General Superintendent of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District ofGreater Chicago. I’d spent the day as his guest at the downtown headquarters of theDistrict, talking to some of the biologists and engineers who keep the Chicago area’swastewater and stormwater systems operating as efficiently as the latest technologies andmost diligent care can manage.The level of groundwater at this particular monitoring point in Lockport Prairiehas been dropping steadily since 2001. The quality of habitat in this rare dolomiteprairie depends entirely on these water levels. If the groundwater seeps effectively“dry up,” globally rare species could quickly disappear, perhaps never to return.The challenge for planners, conservation advocates, indeed everyone, is how toconserve precious water resources to provide for people and nature.Source: GAS & Associates, Inc., CorLands;Photos top to bottom: Dan Kirk, Carol Freeman, Casey GalvinNow Lanyon was talking about his childhood, growing up in the 1940s on the north sideof Chicago. The North Branch of the Chicago River, although it was terribly polluted inthose days, was his playground. He talked about how much cleaner the river was now.“The lake, too,” he said, nodding toward Lake Michigan. He remembers the mats of algaethat fouled the city’s beaches when he was a kid, and the stench that came off the lakewhen the wind blew from the north and east. He’s seen enormous changes, and knowsbetter than most people how much effort went into implementing them.“We’ve come a long way,” he said.
  16. 16. I thought of how when you fly in high over Chicago late in the day, when the sun is nearthe horizon, the light reflects off water as far as you can see to the west, from the Loop tothe suburbs to the Plains — hundreds of ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers gleaming likefragments of broken mirror — while beneath you and as far north as you can see is LakeMichigan, blue and immense, a virtual ocean of freshwater. Water, water, everywhere.And every drop of it at risk.Lanyon was right, of course. We’ve come a long way. But I couldn’t help thinking howmuch further we have to go.About the authorJerry Dennis, who lives near Lake Michigan in Traverse City, Michigan, has writtennumerous books and articles about nature and the outdoors including The Living GreatLakes, Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. While researching this article lastsummer, Jerry competed in the Flatwater Classic Canoe and Kayak Race on the ChicagoRiver. His second report, on water quality, will appear in the next issue of ChicagoWILDERNESS.This special report was made possible by a grant from the Grand Victoria Foundation.To download a PDF of this report, and to learn more about other reports in this SpecialReports series published by Chicago Wilderness Magazine, please visit ChicagoWilderness Reports.Archives | Support | Into the Wild | Contact Us | The Calumet Region | Special ReportsCopyright © 2010 Chicago Wilderness Magazine