top of page

Chicago Water, Explained

Updated: Feb 19

In this article, we have collected actions and resources with the goal to reduce water pollution by educating the community on good stewardship practices for clean water.

We encourage actions by individuals, businesses, and governments to reduce the amount of water used, including water discharged to the sewer system.

If you have other resources for us to consider including or you'd like to do a project related to water in Edgewater, please reach out to us!

Water Quality Issues

We see there are two major issues with water:

  1. ensuring an adequate supply of clean water

  2. dealing with wastewater and stormwater runoff  in a responsible fashion

Fortunately, Chicago has access to one of the most premier clean water sources in the world: Lake Michigan. While it is, essentially, an unlimited source, its use is constrained by court decisions. To allow for availability and use by many municipalities in the region, it must be used efficiently by all.

There are also significant costs in purifying and distributing water, which is the responsibility of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. However, our individual actions can reduce the amount of excess water overflow during a rain event.

The following are some stormwater diversion tactics, which residents and businesses can follow:

  1. Use permeable pavers in driveways, alleys, and parking lots. New developments will be a focus.

  2. Use native plants for ornamental landscaping and add bioswales to absorb water.

  3. Use Rain Barrels to catch water and use for watering plants.

  4. Build Rain Gardens or Native Gardens to catch water diverted from disconnected downspouts.

Occurrences affecting Water Quality

  1. All surface waters in the Chicago region normally flow away from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River system.

  2. When used, the wastewater goes to one of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s wastewater treatment plants. Most of the region has a combined sewer system.

  3. An intense or prolonged rain can result in massive runoff that overwhelms the capacity of the collection systems and treatment plants. The excess water, a mixture of sewage and runoff, and the combined sewer overflow (CSO) are discharged into the Chicago River. This is a problem that must be addressed at the source when the rain event occurs.

  4. Large CSO events cause major flooding of highway underpasses and basements. To minimize this problem with large events, water from the river is diverted to Lake Michigan. These diversions to the lake occur about once a year, on average.

When a CSO event is occurring, anything that decreases the discharge to the sewers will decrease the amount of CSO going into the river. Therefore, it is important that residents and businesses enact stormwater diversion strategies.

Take Action

  1. Contact your legislators with these action alerts from the Illinois Environmental Council

  2. Water Lead Test Kit: Order yours here. Testing your drinking water for lead, you can make a service request for a Water Lead Test Kit. The kit is free and is mailed to your address with a set of instructions that can be requested in multiple languages. If you are in Edgewater, send us your results.

  3. Get a Rain Barrel from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

  4. Submit your Edgewater flooding spot to the EEC Flood Community Assessment

  5. Sign up for Overflow Action Alerts

  6. Get a Rain Blocker from the city via 311 


  • A green infrastructure project prioritization tool to be used to inform decision-making, reveal opportunities and priorities, for advocacy and community protection, substantiate grants and investments, and strategic planning. A robust parcel prioritization map that anyone can use to explore and collect data about sites within Chicago-area watersheds. The tool’s parcel data is an excellent resource for driving funding of green infrastructure to communities of the greatest need.

  • Flood Factor™ is a free online tool that makes it easy to find and visualize a home's past, current, and future flood risks.

  • Whether you are appalled or intrigued by the Chicago River and canal, it belongs to you. According to Public Trust law, surface waters — those waters you can see above ground like rivers and lakes — are collectively held by those who live around them, other species in the ecosystem, and future generations. Now that you know your role as steward of the water, what can you do? This toolkit guides you.

  • To help northeastern Illinois better understand and prepare for flood risks, CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) developed the regional flood susceptibility index. The comprehensive data resource helps communities identify areas that have experienced flood damage and may be at greater risk of flooding in the future.

  • The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s (MWRD’s) Green Neighbor Guide offers instructions and tips to implement various green infrastructure installations.

  • Also in Spanish. Making your own household cleaners can be easier and cheaper. By using this alternative, you will help prevent these toxins from entering our waterways and you will also be protecting your body.

  • In communities, better water management means that homes, schools, and businesses are prepared for rain—whether too much or too little. RainReady programs keep residences secure and dry, services running, and rivers and lakes clean.

  • Use this worksheet to keep track of the number of times you use water and in which way

  • On conversation & stormwater management, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River.

  • A forum for collaboration around expanded watershed-based stormwater management using multi-benefit nature-based solutions.

  • A quantitative and qualitative look at urban flooding in the Calumet Region of Cook County. The Calumet Region, like much of Cook County, experiences flooding because of multiple factors. Explore this tool to see data about where it floods, why it floods, and who is most impacted by flooding.

  • Dedicated to delivering clean, safe drinking water to Chicagoans. These infrastructure investments maintain and upgrade the end-to-end purification process, and therefore, a safe experience for the Chicago consumer.


Related Posts

See All


bottom of page