Daley touts green infrastructure

  • By Jennifer Slosar
  • Environment Reporter
  • October 20, 2008 @ 2:58 PM

Chicago’s focus on green infrastructure is helping to make it a “shining example of how a large city can live in harmony with the environment,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said today in an address focused on managing water resources and infrastructure.

The mayor made his remarks at a session of the Water Environment Federation convention, taking place at McCormick place through Wednesday. The convention gathers over 20,000 professionals in wastewater utilities, consulting firms, manufacturing and academia to discuss the latest research in wastewater treatment.

Water conservation and sustainability is a major part of the Climate Action Plan that the city unveiled in September, said Daley. The plan aims to cut Chicago’s emissions of global warming gasses by 2020.

The city’s network of “green infrastructure” programs has helped the city to surpass its 2006 goal of reducing water consumption by 15 percent from its 2000 level, said Daley.

He singled out the Green Alley Program as a central part of the city’s “holistic approach” to conservation and stormwater management. Under the program, it’s now standard for the city to install permeable pavers or permeable concrete when rebuilding alleys

In addition, the city’s green permit program expedites permit review for developers who implement green solutions, such as permeable pavers, rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, and bioswales.

All of these technologies capture stormwater that might otherwise flow with sewage into the city’s combined sewer system, increasing flooding and polluting rivers and streams.

The mayor noted that the city now has over 4 million square feet of green roofs, and has planted over one-half million trees in his administration.

Daley cited the city’s new stormwater management ordinance as a major step toward water sustainability, as well as flood control. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, mandates that developers capture the first half inch of rainwater that runs off impervious surfaces, such as roofs, sidewalks and driveways, and prevent it from flowing into the city’s sewer system.

The mayor also applauded Congress for passing the Great Lakes Compact, which entrusts decisions about the Lakes to local officials who interact with them and institutes strong water conservation measures. The agreement received strong support from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Initiative, which Daley formed with other mayors in 2003.

Daley wrapped up his address with a clarion call for national reinvestment in the nation’s aging infrastructure, a theme of several sessions at this week’s conference.

Chicago’s 4,000 miles of water mains, built between 1880 and 1920, are nearing the end of their lifespan, said Daley. He said the city will need to invest $8 billion and double its current rate of laying pipe to 75 miles per year in order to maintain its water and sewer infrastructure.

“We hope that infrastructure becomes the highest priority,” Daley said of his hopes for the next presidential administration. “If it’s not, then we’ll have a very difficult time competing in the global marketplace.”

Jennifer Slosar is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She covers environmental issues for the Daily News.