Water Advocacy and Policy

For more than fifty years, Openlands has been a vocal, visionary advocate of regional planning as a means to statewide protection and conservation of water resources. We forge multi-faceted partnerships to transform cutting edge pilot programs into common business practices. We collaborate with government agencies and industry on innovative stormwater management programs, plans, and clean water regulations to create vibrant, resilient places to live and work.

We have worked to improve the water quality of the Chicago River, where people canoe and kayak, and to where wildlife, like river otters, are slowly returning. With our partners the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Paddling Council, and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (now CMAP), Openlands co-authored the first regional water trails plan. With support of the Grand Victoria Foundation, we worked to implement the plan and to show how people can paddle on our waterways.

Openlands works with agencies, industry, and the land trust community to define and reform programs, such as the State Revolving Loan funds, to finance innovative practices that can transform how we manage water. As a member of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Green Infrastructure Collaborative, Openlands’ Space to Grow © partnership is emerging as a national model for community-based green stormwater solutions.

In 2009, Openlands and Metropolitan Planning Council released Before the Wells Run Dry: Ensuring Sustainable Water Supplies for Illinois. This report recommended coordination of planning and implementing strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability and efficient use of our finite, fragile water resources.

Executive Summary: Before the Wells Run Dry: Ensuring Sustainable Water Supplies for Illinois

In 2013, Openlands and Friends of the Chicago River commissioned a study, Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River to examine the economic benefit of improving water quality in the Chicago River. A clean Chicago River has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar economic driver for Chicago and the surrounding region. Each dollar invested provides a 70% return on investment through business revenue, tax revenue, and income. Investing in the Chicago River can create 52,400 construction jobs and 846 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. New parks and public amenities along the river increase our property value and quality of life.

Full Report: Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River

In 2014, Openlands, with assistance from Conservation Design Forum, studied how community and school gardens in flood-prone Chicago neighborhoods can slow, clean, and reduce stormwater runoff that runs into city sewers and ultimately flows into Chicago’s waterways.

Full Report: Community-Based Green Infrastructure Solutions – Changing How We Manage Stormwater

Executive Summary: Community-Based Green Infrastructure Solutions – Changing How We Manage Stormwater