U.S. Water News Online
CHICAGO -- Thirsty lawns are turning yellow and brown.
Water levels are dropping so low that ducks can stand in some rivers
and streams. Signs are going up warning that turning on the sprinkler
can mean a $750 ticket.
They are unmistakable signs of drought, popping up in communities
throughout Illinois. Though not as dramatic as the talk of widespread
crop loss on Illinois farms, the signs are steadily growing in areas
not so closely tied to the land.
"I'm not watering out of respect for what is happening
ecologically," said Tod Lending, motioning to his parched lawn in
front of his home on Chicago's North Side. "I have a 10-year-old
daughter and I'm trying to teach her what the right thing is to do
Up and down the streets of Lending's neighborhood, along with
lush, green lawns that are obviously being watered are more than a
few that are just as obviously not. It is the same story in other
"From all the brown lawns, people have been pretty receptive to
our encouraging to conserve water," said Gail Simpson, spokeswoman
for the state's Department of Natural Resources.
In nearby Forest Park, for example, not only has Bridie Hickman
limited her watering to her vegetable garden, she also has taken
steps such as collecting water from her sink after she washes lettuce
and pouring it on her plants outside.
"All that water used to go down the drain (and) now it goes out in
the garden," she said.
Molly Lane, a special education teacher in Chicago, lives in an
apartment and doesn't have a lawn. But she said the drought has
prompted her to save water where she can, too.
"I let my flowers die," she said. "I figured I'm not going to
waste water on plants. I mean, they're flowers."
In ways big and small, communities are also cutting back on water
use. In Chicago the grass at parks is no longer being watered, so the
city's fire department recently decided to teach fire hose techniques
at a lakefront park so the ground would benefit from the water.
Residents of communities around the state, from Belleville to
Chicago, have been asked to conserve water. Algonquin in McHenry
County is among a growing number of communities that has imposed
restrictions on outside watering, allowing residents to water every
North Aurora has gone a step further after the water supply
dropped more than twice as much as it normally does this time of
"We are in a water ban right now," said Paul Young, the city's
superintendent of water operations. Residents are still allowed to
hand-water flowers or gardens, but if city officials spot sprinklers
running in their yards they could be given tickets for as much as
Don Bryant, the emergency management director for Kane County, was
concerned enough about how far the flow of the Fox River has dropped
-- running at 21 percent of normal recently -- he recently warned
county leaders to come up with a plan to better prepare for a severe
Statewide, Gov. Rod Blagojevich activated a Drought Response Task
Force to monitor the conditions and plan for possible emergencies.
Still, conservation can be a tough sell in a part of the country
that includes a fresh water lake about the size of West Virginia.
Molly Lane said as she jogs in her neighborhood she passes house
after house where the sprinkler is running in the middle of the day,
often watering the sidewalk along with the lawn.
"I absolutely feel people don't have any real idea what is really
going on," she said.
State officials said they know of no community in Illinois that is
in imminent danger of running out of water. But they warn that if the
drought continues and people don't cut back on the amount of water
they are using, it could happen.
"You can get to the point where you can no longer withdraw water"
from wells and aquifers, said Roger Selburg, manager of the Division
of Public Works for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Then, he said, "there's really not a whole lot that you can do other
than start bringing in bottled water or perhaps tanker trucks."
The level of Lake Michigan is only slightly below normal. Sadhu
Johnston, commissioner of Chicago's Department of Environment, said
that even if it will long remain a source of drinking water,
conserving water remains important.
"If Chicago and other cities along the lake just continued pulling
more and more water out of the lake, the level would drop" and
devastate everything from fish and other wildlife to the shipping
industry, Johnston said.
"There are all sorts of implications; it's unbelievable," he said.
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