MPC in Springfield: Rainwater Harvesting legislation passes first hurdle in Illinois

By Kristi DeLaurentiis

Did you know that more than 20 percent of the water we consume in our homes—the kind of water that’s treated to drinking quality, as in good-enough-to-be-EvianHinkleySprings-water—is simply flushed away as toilet water each and every day? It’s a waste, I agree, especially when there’s another source of water delivered to our home free of charge that could be used both for flushing toilets (or other non-potable uses) and as a tool to reduce stormwater runoff: rainwater. Yes, rainwater. Makes perfect sense—yet currently there are no established standards in Illinois that allow use of collected rainwater in indoor systems. 

That’s why the Metropolitan Planning Council has supported passage of legislation that requires the Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) to update the state’s plumbing code to allow for rainwater re-use for toilets and other systems. Illinois Senate Bill 38, introduced by Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood), directs IDPH to establish minimum standards for rainwater harvesting systems by 2012—in other words to “green up” the state’s plumbing regulations, much like other states already have done. This past week, we got one step closer as the Senate Licensed Activities Committee unanimously approved SB 38, getting the bill over its first hurdle on its way to becoming law. 

I am impressed by the number and breadth of organizations from across the State that stand as proponents for SB 38, with nearly 30 organizations submitting position slips in favor of this measure at the committee hearing, including the Lt. Governor’s Office, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Ill. Assoc. of Park Districts, and multiple municipal organizations, to name a few. Barrington Mayor Karen Darch, present to testify in favor of the bill, spoke eloquently that permitting rainwater re-use will help abate stormwater impacts and allow for important conservation of our limited water supply. A Lake County Forest Preserve representative described how the Forest Preserve faced a lengthy and costly process when they wanted to use rainwater in their toilets in the Ryerson Woods Visitor Center. The Forest Preserve finally secured a variance from the Ill. Dept. of Public Health, but the representative pointed out that such a common sense process should not be so onerous. The Senate Committee unanimously agreed, passing SB 38 in a bi-partisan fashion with a vote of 12-0. 

Now, the bill faces its next hurdle: passage by the entire Senate. Last year, the full Senate voted in favor of the measure only to have it come to a screeching halt once sent to the Ill. House of Representatives.  Fortunately, it looks as though concerns raised during last year’s debate may be resolved this time around. What’s more, members of the General Assembly see Rainwater Harvesting as a new tool for sustainable water resource management in Illinois. They understand we need to be good stewards of our water supply for future generations and recognize there’s an added benefit to using free rainwater: it keeps clean rain out of the sewer system, reducing flooding and property damage. 

Saving water and reducing stormwater runoff makes sense. Now all we need are safe, dependable green standards on Illinois’ books.

You can take a look at MPC’s fact sheet on Rainwater Harvesting here.