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We Live in the Great Lakes Region – How Should We Conserve Water?

In December 2009 the Great Lakes Protection Fund financed a series of design phase projects to create new strategies that test how water conservation practices can best benefit the physical, biological and chemical integrity of the Great Lakes. This was an unusual initiative for the Fund—supporting a series of design phase projects was not something we had tried before—and was strongly driven by the tough economic climate of the time. Drawing on a modest budget, GLPF funded first phases of what was anticipated to be multi-phased efforts. The Fund expected to support the implementation/pilot phases for some teams in future grant-making.

Two years later, these planning projects are complete, and some teams are now testing their ideas in Fund-supported pilots. Through their work the teams found that water conservation is different in the Great Lakes, and to be effective must be more broadly defined to include municipal supply, stormwater and wastewater, and engage a different set of stakeholders than traditional water conservation strategies. Specifically:

  • Conservation strategies designed for dry regions, often with a single-minded focus on “gallons of water used” do not work well in a water rich region. The impacts of water use can only be considered at a local level. The teams found that using typical water conservation strategies would provide value only in certain limited locations.
  • Water use is a minor portion of the Great Lakes hydrologic cycle. The full hydrologic cycle, particularly stormwater runoff, needs to be considered and managed. The teams found that restoring natural drainage patterns present far greater ecological gains than decreasing use.

The teams developed a series of products—analytic tools, models, maps, policy papers, surveys, reports and more—that have proven to be immediately useful to a variety of Great Lakes stakeholders. They can be found on the individual project pages by clicking on the project headings below.

The Fund held a workshop that brought the teams together to discuss what they discovered in their research and design phase efforts. To read a summary report of that workshop, click here.

Value of the Great Lakes Water Initiative explored the social, political and economic factors that drive the pricing of public water in the Great Lakes region, and examined how pricing could be employed as a conservation practice. The team identified vulnerable watersheds in the basin; performed a rate survey of basin water utilities; held a series of water rate workshops across the basin; and created a pricing primer.

Integrating Energy and Water Resources Decision-Making looked at integrating ecological factors into the planning and siting of power production facilities to minimize impacts on aquatic habitats and resources. The team identified watersheds vulnerable to impacts from power generation; developed an interactive energy-water nexus map of the Great Lakes; created a model to predict future water resource impacts from changes in the energy mix; and completed a policy analysis on energy markets, energy planning, and facility siting and operations.

Great Lakes Watershed Ecological Sustainability Strategy evaluated how water movement patterns have been disrupted in Great Lakes watersheds, and explored where to pilot integrated restoration efforts. The team characterized all 120 HUC-8 watersheds in the basin based on physical condition, causes of impairment, and readiness to act, and used these criteria to identify a series of candidate watersheds best suited for future work. The team’s primary objective was to test (in a later phase) a science-based strategy for watershed restoration based on an innovative model that would identify the placement and extent of restoration actions needed to improve the physical, chemical and biological condition of the watershed.

Water Use Impacts and Conservation Benefits examined the broader environmental impacts resulting from water use and conservation, and developed tools for quantifying the benefits of water conservation. The team developed a protocol for certifying the carbon value of water conservation; created a carbon calculator for water and wastewater utilities water conservation activities; and developed a tool that enables utilities to prioritize water conservation actions based on the water source, discharge receiving waters, and development history.