From Waste to Water: A Framework for Sustainable Freshwater Supply in Northeastern Illinois

Executive Summary:

The present moment entails a new set of challenges to water management: A formidable challenge to
water management is the growing imbalance between flooding and water scarcity.

  • Flooding and scarcity can wildly alternate in the same place or transpire in proximity to
    each other.
  • This uneven water geography harms aquatic ecosystems and disrupts human health,
    economic stability, and social balance. Current patterns of intensive water use and future anticipated demands,
    combined with the impacts of climate change, promise to further upend procurement of water.
  • Developing adaptive infrastructure is the key to meeting these challenges.
  • Water recycling that maximizes available water supply and supports commercial
    endeavors in situations of scarcity represents an essential piece of such adaptive

Because water recycling requires technical innovation and public health inquiry, as well as
policy and urban planning considerations, we convened an interdisciplinary team to establish
the research and development groundwork for water recycling.

This report:

  • Addresses technical issues around treatment and delivery of recycled water as well as
    its public health and environmental implications.
  • Provides a cost-benefit analysis that serves to overcome political and economic
    barriers to adoption.
  • Suggests that large-scale water reuse can play a role in job creation and economic
  • Addresses scenarios and solutions for uneven water geography in northeastern Illinois,
    characterized by urban flooding along the Lake Michigan coast and impending collapse
    of the inland Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer.

Presently, these parallel problems are not addressed in tandem. Taking them together points to
the ways in which water recycling can balance extremes of flooding and drought in our region
and beyond.

Prepared in March 2023 for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) by the Great Cities Institute and the Freshwater Lab at the University of Illinois, Chicago.


Rachel Havrelock, Ph.D.,
Director, UIC Freshwater Lab; Professor of English; and Research Fellow, UIC Great Cities Institute.

Krishna R. Reddy, Ph.D.,
Professor of Civil, Materials, and Environmental Engineering; Director of Sustainable Engineering; and Research Fellow, UIC Great Cities Institute.

Teresa Córdova, Ph.D.,
Director, UIC Great Cities Institute; and Professor of Urban Planning and Policy.

Ahmed Rachid El-Khattabi, Ph.D.,
Research Fellow, UIC Great Cities Institute.

Matthew D. Wilson, Ph.D.,
Associate Director of Workforce and Economic Development, UIC Great Cities Institute; and Assistant Research Professor, Urban Planning and Policy.

Braeden Nelson,
Graduate Research Assistant, UIC Freshwater Lab.

Valeria Kandou,
Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Civil, Materials, and Environmental Engineering.

Citlalli Trujillo,
Graduate Research Assistant, UIC Freshwater Lab.

Read the Full Report Here.