Natural Ideas for Chicago’s Water Challenges

BY: RUDOLPH REPA, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

When I was younger my parents and I would always be out in the garden. My favorite part of being outside on hot summer days was when I turned on the hose; the clear, cold, and comforting water was always a treat. Now that I look back on those moments, I realize how lucky we are in the Chicagoland area to have such an abundant natural resource.

Yet our clean and cheap water supply is at risk. Chicago’s infrastructure relies on a combined sewer & rainwater runoff system. So when there are large storm events, the excess rainwater-sewage mix gets dumped into the Chicago River. This can lead to pollution, disease, and lower quality of life for those along the waterways. Thus, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago awards grants to projects that can reduce Combined Sewer Overflows.

That’s where UIC’s commitment to a Net Zero Water Campus comes into play. Together with the Sustainability Office, our committee is looking at ways to better improve UIC’s water resources and drainage capabilities. While there are a variety of ideas that can move our project towards its goal, one of the simplest ways to capture stormwater runoff is through native plantings. Earlier this summer, the Sustainability Office toured the James Woodworth Prairie Reserve–an undisturbed natural prairie—in Glenview, IL. Not only was the natural ecosystem beautiful, but the prairie acted as a sponge which soaked up rain. It is this type of simple & elegant solution that will most help UIC and its commitment to a Net Zero Water Campus.

From installing cisterns to capture rainwater for use on UIC’s sports fields, to reducing the number of safety concerns surrounding standing, stagnant water on Campus; we in the committee are looking at new and innovative ways to combine green technology, native ecology, and smart engineering to not only improve UIC, but for Chicagoland as a whole.