University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456,


August 18, 1999 Contact: Laurent Pernot (312)413-4137,


Great Lakes states face restrictions, may take lessons from Middle East

Officials and scholars from the United States and Canada will gather at the University of Illinois at Chicago Sept. 16-17 to help lay the groundwork for concerted regional management of urban water resources.

The conference, "Improved Decision-Making for Water Resources: The Key to Sustainable Development for Metropolitan Regions," will focus on such topics as the impact of economic activity on the ecology of the Great Lakes and the ramifications of U.S. Supreme Court-mandated caps in Great Lakes water consumption.

Illinois, which already exceeds the lawful lake-water diversion limits, may not be able to supply fast-expanding communities in lake water, according to a study by the UIC Great Cities Institute conducted as part of the Regional Water Resources Strategic Plan being developed by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.

The conference will feature a presentation on Middle East water conservation efforts to help decision-makers reverse current water-use trends.

"We are struggling to meet huge challenges to our economic and environmental health," said Henry Henderson, former City of Chicago environment commissioner and senior fellow at the UIC Great Cities Institute, which co-sponsors the conference with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program, a partnership of Purdue University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Water management is at the heart of these challenges, particularly for the Chicago region and the Great Lakes generally.

"In Illinois, this involves serious past infrastructure mistakes and water overuse that require us to return every gallon of water we have overused by 2020. How can we do this and sustain our communities?

"That is why we are bringing together experts from the region, including Canada, to jump-start concerted efforts to address water-use issues."

The authorities expected to attend include U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley (invited); David Crombie, chair of Toronto's Waterfront Regeneration Trust; Roan Conrad, director of the Office of Sustainable Development and Intergovernmental Affairs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Ronald Baird, director of the National Sea Grant College Program; and Alex Anas, director of the Center for Regional Development and Policy at SUNY-Buffalo.

The message of the conference is also geared to local community leaders, said Henderson, because they need to realize that "every flush matters - everyone will have to make changes, even the tiny suburb that's been buying Lake Michigan water for years.

"There is a shallow acquifer under Will County that could produce a lot of drinking water and that represents nearly as much water as is currently being diverted from the lake. These are the potential solutions that, as a region, we need to begin to consider."

Daniel McGrath, a senior associate and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Affiliate at the UIC Great Cities Institute, is applying his training as a land economist to lake issues.

"It's high time we examine closely the impact of economic and political factors on the region's natural capital," he said. "When we consider job creation, we should also be forecasting how many gallons of sewage those jobs will generate. In short, we need a regional, science-based approach to how we use the lakes."

Sea Grant officials are confident lessons learned about the Great Lakes will be beneficial elsewhere.

"I anticipate that this conference will contribute to the development of sustainable economies in coastal communities across the country," said Phillip Pope, director of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program.

Scientists are only beginning to measure the long-term effects of land-based growth on the ecology of the Great Lakes and other coastal areas. That ecology, says UIC earth and environmental sciences professor Steve Forman, has been "inexorably altered."

"The average level of Lake Michigan has jumped, and may be exceeding historic highs," said Forman, who is examining water levels for the past 10,000 years. "Because of all the concrete built around the lake and all the destruction of wetlands, water swooshes into the lake because there's no on-land storage.

"And higher lake levels over long period of time affect everything from property values to water quality. We can't go back to the 19th century, but we have to learn to appreciate the impact society has on the lake."

"The man-made environment in our lakeside cities is readily apparent, but the natural processes that sustain urban populations, economic activities and highly-valued amenities are invisible to most people," said Richard Sparks, research coordinator for the Illinois Sea Grant College program. "Yet, much of the existing water-related infrastructure - shoreline protection works and water distribution systems - will need replacement or upgrading over the next 50 years. This problem is compounded by increasing stresses on water resources."

With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of the 88 leading research universities in the country. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the area.

For more information about the conference, visit


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