Wasted Water and Environmental Injustice in Chicago

This fall semester, students in my SUST 220 Water class have been studying our American obsession with bottled water, which comes at the expense of (among other things) proper investment in and maintenance of public drinking water infrastructure. While taxpayer-funded repairs to underground water infrastructure are expensive and politically unpopular, the bottled water industry continues to thrive and grow: the International Bottled Water Association reported industry wholesale revenues of more than $14.2 billion in 2015 alone.

The Chicago Region is blessed with one of the best drinking water sources in the world: Lake Michigan, which supplies water to 163 Chicago-area communities.

Water intake crib off Chicago’s shoreline (photo: A. Perez, Chgo Tribune)

But as this important investigative report published online in the Chicago Tribune reveals, billions of gallons of treated drinking water are wasted each year, while communities pay millions of $ for water that never reaches their taps. Meanwhile, wide disparities in drinking water rates, combined with differential amounts of waste via leaks, disproportionately saddle poor and minority communities with extra costs they cannot afford.

Thus does neglected urban infrastructure meet environmental injustice in 21st century America, here along the southern rim of Lake Michigan.


Patrick M. O’Connell, Cecilia Reyes, Ted Gregory and Angela Caputo. (25 Oct 2017). Billions Lost, Millions Wasted: Why Chicago-area Residents Pay Millions for Water that Never Reachers Their Taps. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

——. (25 Oct 2017). Same Lake, Unequal Rates: Why Our Water Rates Are Surging — and Why Black and Poor Suburbs Pay More. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/news/lake-michigan-drinking-water-rates/index.html.


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