Peg Soldan, a member of the Mokena Garden Club, waters her dying flowers and trees Tuesday in the backyard of her Mokena home

Peg Soldan, a member of the Mokena Garden Club, waters her dying flowers and trees Tuesday in the backyard of her Mokena home (Alex Garcia / July 11, 2012)

Tribune editors and staff noticed a spate of outright bans on watering over the holiday week, and sure enough, regimented phone calls revealed local water utilities were struggling to keep up for demand for water for the parched lawns of suburbia.

The TribLocal staffers were mobilized Monday to perform a survey of suburban watering restrictions, and nearly every community in Chicagoland is taking part in some sort of conservation measures.

Among the things our reporting revealed:

Some of the suburban water restrictions are mandated by the state -- communities that get water from Lake Michigan are required to make an effort to limit water use -- while others arose in response to drought conditions in 2005 or the 1990s.

Total bans, of course, are an emergency measure, required when water levels in storage tanks and towers get so low that pressure drops make it impossible to operate a fire hydrant.

But the grass needs people to water it, and part of the reason it does could be lawn-owners' fault.

University of Illinois-Extension professor Tom Voigt says this summer has been so dry (June was the fifth-driest on record) that grass has little chance without a help from the spigot.

But he also points out that frequent watering limits the growth of deep roots -- making the grass even less drought-resistant and prompting a vicious, soggy cycle that requires more and more human intervention.

Better for your fescue, and all of us, if you just lay down just a quarter-inch of water every three to six weeks.

Fun fact that didn’t make it into today’s story: While the suburbs supplied with lake water by the City of Chicago struggled to keep up with demand, Chicago itself didn’t come close to record output levels.

One reason, suggested by Water Department spokesman Tom Laporte, is that the city has over the years installed new security valves on fire hydrants across the city.

While Chicagoans may not have expansive lawns to water, residents have long made it a tradition to unbolt the valves on fire hydrants on hot days.

This year, however -- despite triple-digit temperatures -- just hundreds of hydrants have been jimmied open. Not many years ago, the number would have been in the thousands.

 

-- Andrew Grimm

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