This year we skipped Chicago’s ginormous Green Festival at Navy Pier. It’s pretty much a full-day commitment, which was more than we could squeeze into our schedule. But I did manage to swing by the more quaint Oak Park Earth Fest Saturday.
In its second year, the fest takes place at the village Public Works Center, which is really like a big garage. The vendor selection, amenities and food offerings don’t compare to the elaborate two-day showcase on the lakefront, but this gathering boasted a nice community vibe. You could chat with an architect, inquire about solar panels for your house, buy a lunchbox made of recycled materials, or learn how to “green” your neighborhood school. All while leaving time to get the kids to baseball or whatever else they have going on a typical Saturday.
The fest also presented an opportunity to meet village officials who sit on the front lines of environmental issues. One such person is Water and Sewer Superintendent Brian Jack. If you want to know anything about water, ask Jack. He believes our area’s take-it-for-granted attitude about water consumption — fed by historically clean and ample Great Lakes water — seems to be changing.
“People are more aware of not wasting water. Ten years ago people would (do things like) let the water keep running while they were brushing their teeth,” Jack said. In fact, water consumption has dropped in the village over the last decade, to about 1.8 billion gallons per year from more than 2 billion, he said. Part of that is attributable to more water-efficient fixtures mandated by the EPA.
Contaminants such as lead are not a significant issue in Oak Park, which buys municipal water from the City of Chicago. Like with most municipal water supplies, chlorine is added to kill bacteria. Jack said filtering your tap water is “a matter of personal preference.” (In fact, we deliberated long and hard about whether to install a water filter in our kitchen tap. But since our home has new pipes and we’re long-time Great Lakes-area residents used to drinking water straight from the tap, we opted against a filter.)
Whether you filter or not, Jack opposes buying bottled water. Instead, the department urges people to carry their own water bottles. ”We’re very lucky here that we have very high-quality water. You don’t really need to buy bottled water,” he says.
On his department’s table sat a typical store-bought plastic water bottle filled about one third of the way with a dark liquid, representing the amount of crude oil it takes to produce and transport a bottle of water. Ugh! Of course, carrying your own bottle is also vastly cheaper. According to the village, a 24-pack of bottled water runs about $1.60 per gallon versus a fraction of a penny per gallon from your tap.