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Representatives from both the City of Evanston and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) reported to the Evanston City Council Aug. 13 their recommendations to increase the City’s water efficiency.

Catherine Hurley, the City’s sustainable programs coordinator, and Amy Talbot, a planner with CMAP, presented highlights from a plan designed to curb Evanston’s water usage by about 6 percent – conserving about 159 million gallons of water – by the year 2020. The plan has been possible thanks to a technical assistance grant Evanston was awarded by CMAP last year.

The plan built upon recommendations that had already been in place for Evanston and other cities, such as climate action and tap water cleanliness efforts, said Ms. Talbot. It discusses current usage of Evanston’s water resources and suggests best management practices for the City’s water supply.

A key hurdle is that many residents, no matter how conscientious they are about water use, generally have little idea of how much water they are actually using. An online residential survey administered by the City and CMAP earlier this year highlighted guesses ranging from five to 500 gallons a day. Evanston’s daily water use actually averages about 97 gallons per capita.

“Everyone thought they used less (water) than average – so basically people don’t know how much water they use and they also think they use less than they do,” Ms. Talbot said.

She added that the City is actually on track to meet its conservation goals, so educating the public about water use is the main goal of the CMAP plan.

A key component of the plan is transparency of water bills. The plan suggests water bills measure usage in gallons instead of cubic feet, for example. “That’s something that could be put into place relatively easily, using current software,” Ms. Talbot said. She added that the bill could also be enhanced to show how much water residents use in comparison with their neighbors.

At the residential level, the plan suggests encouraging residents to replace older, less-efficient toilets and to water their lawns less, Ms. Talbot said. Recommendations for businesses included installing more efficient pre-rinse spray valves for dishes in food service establishments encouraging customers to change their own consumption behaviors. She gave as an example the Hilton Garden Inn’s practice of asking multi-night guests whether their linens had to be changed out every day.

“That not only saves water, it also saves staff time and resources,” Ms. Talbot said.

Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked for clarification on average water usage. Ms. Talbot said that the figure she gave previously – 97 gallons per person – was tabulated by total gallons used in the City, divided by the number of residents, and was the standard for reporting. But after commercial usage was taken out, average use would likely come out to between 60 and 70 gallons per person. Nationwide, the average is about 100 gallons per person.

“As far as the nation goes, and the region, Evanston is doing really well,” Ms. Talbot said.

Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, complimented Ms. Talbot on the plan but cautioned against getting too heavy-handed on putting restrictions into play.

“I’m very big on outreach and education,” she said. “Where I start to have trouble is when it translates into restrictions … down the road, it’s very easy to make that transition into, ‘you can’t buy bottled water in Evanston,’ or ‘you have to have such-and-such a toilet’ – hopefully families’ decisions for purchases will be taken care of by education and not by restrictive ordinances.”

“That would be the ideal situation,” answered Ms. Talbot. “That’s why we chose to put much of what we did into the plan. Many things we can start doing now and, if the City sees the need for ordinances or use restrictions later because conditions are changing, they can do that.”

Ms. Hurley added that the plan was most useful in providing a roadmap for future water goals.

“Having a plan is one of the most important ways you can get funding,” Ms. Hurley said. “Having this plan addressing a lot of different areas will allow us to go out to a lot of different funders besides CMAP – funders who are specifically funding for education and information.”

CMAP and the City will host a table at the City’s Green Living Festival on Sept. 29 to discuss the plan further with the public.