Our tap water is high quality, much less expensive with a vastly more environmentally friendly delivery system than single-use plastic bottles.
A gallon of municipal tap water costs ½ cent while a gallon of bottled water costs $9.50/gallon -- 2000 times more expensive!
According to National Geographic, PET plastic water bottles take 450 years to degrade. While they can be recycled, in the US only 30% are. The other 70% goes into landfill, litters landscapes or bodies of water, including Lake Michigan. According to Food & Water Watch, four billion pounds of plastic are used each year in the US to produce water bottles -- enough plastic to fill the Empire State Building, taking more than 82 million barrels of oil to produce. This doesn’t include all the fossil fuel used to transport bottles from bottling plants to retailers and retailers to homes. Pipes are so much more efficient.
Evanston’s water is a gift from the Ice Age in the form of the Great Lakes. It must meet all Environmental Protection agency (USEPA) safety standards. Bottled water isn’t required to. On average Evanston’s Water Quality Laboratory does over 100 quality tests a day on its tap water, which is also protected from bacteria growth on its way to its destinations by a small amount of chlorine. According to the NRDC, tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottle water doesn’t have to be.
PET plastic water bottles contain phthalates, which are known disruptors of testosterone and other hormones, and over time leach into the water they contain. There are legal limits for phthalates in tap water, but not in bottled water, because the bottled-water industry successfully campaigned against them.
Some additional information about lead in water pipes
Since 1980, lead water pipes have not been used in the U.S. But because replacing underground pipes is complicated and expensive, all US cities have to deal with lead. Legally operated municipal water treatment facilities (including Evanston’s) use an orthophosphate chemical that prevents lead from flaking off pipes into drinking water. In Flint, Washington DC and Newark, lead from old pipes leached into the drinking water because the local water treatment plant stopped using this chemical. In every case, the change was made to save money and went against the US EPA's guidelines. The cost ended up being very high because of the health crises, the need to provide bottled water, and the loss of faith in municipal services. In Evanston, the water treatment plant has consistently used the proper chemical to prevent lead from getting into tap water.
Energy is used in producing and pumping fresh water through pipes, in heating it, and then in treating it once it goes down your drain and back to a wastewater treatment plant. Here are some ways to get the most out of the water supplied to you.
Processing water — first producing it, then pumping it to buildings, then heating it for use, then pumping it away and finally treating it — is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric energy powers the pumps that distribute water throughout the city’s water supply piping system. Wastewater is collected and sent to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) treatment plants. There, electric energy also powers pumps, filtering, and treatment processes that allow “used” water to be returned back to our natural waterways.
Depending on your method of water heating, energy from natural gas or electricity is used to provide hot water for sinks, bathtubs, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers. Using less water often means using less hot water and, therefore, less heating energy.
These processes all have costs, whether it’s the water itself, or the energy for our end uses. Any water savings will yield cost savings, in addition to helping our planet.
Although we are fortunate to have an abundance of water here, we can also be model stewards in light of global freshwater scarcity.
Consider these items to enhance your awareness and prompt easy changes. Making these no-cost approaches part of your regular routines can help make a difference
These items help identify some of the low-cost, straight-forward actions toward achieving more energy reduction improvements. For example, seek out ways to obtain incremental energy efficient options when you need to fix or replace something. The incremental cost for those product upgrades can often be modest when the main work is already planned.
Some significant investments can provide long-lived savings, as well as allow you to replace aging fixtures with new ones or incorporate water-saving ideas into future planning.
What you do in and around your home affects water quality well beyond our watershed because it is connected to downstream watersheds and ultimately to oceans.
Some contaminants are untreatable. If they go down your drains, are poured into toilets, or down stormwater drains they go into our rivers, down the Mississippi and out to the Gulf of Mexico. These untreated contaminants can reduce human health, wildlife health, aquatic ecosystems, and our aquatic food supply.
Older communities, such as ours, have a combined sewer system in which stormwater from rainfall combines with sanitary wastewater into a common piping system for treatment.
Wastewater/stormwater treatment processes include filtering out larger debris, biological breakdown, separation of fine materials, and antimicrobial measures. However, the various treatment processes are unable to completely remove or neutralize most pharmaceuticals, non-biological compounds, and ultrafine particulates.
Household chemicals like paint can be toxic to the environment if disposed of incorrectly. Trace pharmaceuticals may adversely impact the environment and public health. The presence of these compounds in the aquatic environment, even trace quantities, could result in impacts such as antibiotic resistance, abnormal hormonal effects, and interference with the reproduction and growth of aquatic life.
Plastic microbeads from cosmetics and personal hygiene products enter the water system primarily through sinks, tubs and showers. Fortunately, recent legislation was passed to discontinue the sale and manufacture of products containing these small plastics.
Microfibers released from synthetic clothing enter the water system primarily through clothes washing. Studies indicate synthetic fleece materials may be especially prone to this shedding. These contaminants get consumed by fish and other wildlife, posing a danger to the food chain. The small plastic fibers may “bioaccumulate” as the animals that consume them are then consumed by larger animals. The toxins related to these plastics become concentrated in the bodies of animals higher on the food chain, all the way up to us.
These items can help you eliminate your contributions of contaminants to the common wastewater stream.
As water travels over land or through the ground, it dissolves substances resulting from human activities. Precipitation on our cities and towns runs across hard surfaces - like rooftops, sidewalks and roads - and carries pollutants, including pesticides, and nitrogen and phosphorus which are found in fertilizers. Nutrient pollution is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. Too much causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. This increase harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic life for survival. Large algal blooms reduce or eliminate oxygen in water, leading to fish illnesses in fish and death in large numbers. Algal blooms can be harmful to humans if elevated toxins and bacterial growth occur that can make people sick if they contact polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.
These items can help you eliminate your contributions of contaminants to the common stormwater stream.
In Evanston we experience more sudden downpours than we did in years before and more is expected based on climate predictions for our region. We are challenged to avoid drowning in this free resource, and to instead make maximum use of it.
As our town borders Lake Michigan and we get considerable annual precipitation, water is a locally abundant resource. One might think we therefore need not pay much attention to capturing heavy rainfall. But there are several reasons to do so.
Capturing rain on our properties can help us keep our gardens and lawns green during droughts and miminize the need to water, reducing our water bills.
It can also helps avoid overflows of our sewer systems that cause basements to flood and system overflows to pollute the lake and the North Shore Channel. Getting good at this at a community level will also delay or avoid altogether the need to further upgrade sewer systems: a cost that property owners would be required to bear.
Here are some ways to manage water before it goes down a drain or runs downhill off of our properties.
Green infrastructure solutions
Stormwater problem prevention
Beyond actions we take at our homes and in our communities, another way to benefit the watershed is to urge our elected officials to support legislation that will improve the health and safety of our water.
Constituent advocacy helps politicians do what they’d like to do if they agree with advocates, and helps increase their attention to matters that are not top of mind. Even if your representative has announced support for bills you favor, it helps to let them know you care and approve of their stance.
As of May 2020, support these Illinois state bills by contacting your state representatives:
Senate Joint Resolution SJR 60 Protecting communities in floodplains (Koehler) -- Encourages sound floodplain management by IDNR, including preserving oversight of levees. Senate Bill SB3547 / House Bill HB4329 Ban on leaded garden hoses (Curran/Costa Howard) -- Requires the sale of only lead free garden hoses. Senate Bill SB2975 / House Bill HB4605 Quarries (Ellman/Connor) -- IEC and ELPC are reintroducing legislation to require groundwater monitoring at clean construction of demolition debris (CCDD) sites.