Photo by Ms. Parks

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Water is all around: Everyone consumes it, plays in it, bathes in it – and the most important part of the human body. Clare Tallon Ruen, a local water activist, has spent much of her activism career in D65 schools focusing on the Great Lakes.

With the help of post-doctoral researcher at Northwestern University, Dr. Vidya Venkataramanan, a team of researchers was assembled to ask the residents of Evanston what water means to them.

It started out with curiosity: The team wanted to know why the issue of water is not on everyone’s radar. Due to COVID-19, they had to change their research method and produce a survey in May 2020 that is still accepting results.

So far 800 people have responded to the survey with half of the respondents saying they filter their tap water with a filtration device. Many people selected the option at the end of the survey to participate in a Zoom interview about water in Evanston.

“Ultimately, we want to hear stories of people, not just gather data. We want to hear about their experiences,” Dr. Venkataramanan said.

This led to phase two of their research, – interviews. The team has conducted 73 interviews, and they are hoping to gather diverse data by interviewing residents from all wards and people involved in different things such as activism, education, city work, public safety, etc.

During interviews, participants were asked to describe what they love about Evanston to someone who doesn’t live here. The research team found that overwhelmingly, participants said that they love the diversity of Evanston but there are many inequities.

The team used this as a frame of reference for the rest of their findings. They considered access to the lake, who gets to live near it, whether and to what extent the results of redlining affects usage, and institutional racism.

Dr. Venkataramanan said that much of the research has been focused on understanding the current knowledge residents have about water issues and meeting them at that point rather than assuming their water education.

“One thing we would love to do as a result of the research is different types of activities to connect residents with the community. Environmental issues tend to be whiter and more affluent, but justice needs to be central to the conversation,” she said.

We are Water Evanston is looking for small groups to join facilitated Zoom discussions of water priorities that will be based on the themes found in the research project such as access, redlining, water usage and more. They will form the groups, so individuals are encouraged to sign up as well. They can be reached by emailing: wearewaterevanston@gmail.com

There will be beach cleanups at all Evanston beaches from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 24. Click the hyperlink on the location you are interested and sign up on their page.

Ms. Ruen said that through the research she has learned about the many different ways people in Evanston are connected to Lake Michigan and encourages all residents to take the survey so they can continue to connect with them on local issues.

“It has been so eye-opening to see the ways that that residents enjoy the Lake and what water means to folks in Evanston.”

Other researchers involved with the project are Colleen O’Brien, Liliana Hernandez-Gonzalez, Zora Ruen and Zephyr Balch.

To take the survey, follow this link: https://weinberg.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5jvC0DVdBzDy0lf