We Are Water Evanston creates actions for the town of Evanston

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Residents of Evanston are all too familiar with the recent flash flood warnings, which have left some basements flooded and ceilings leaking. Other residents don’t know where to look for help in the event of a flood, according to a recent survey by We are Water, a project that explores the relationship Evanstonians have with water.

The We are Water project, led by Northwestern University postdoctoral researcher Vidya Venkataramanan and local water activist Clare Tallon Ruen, hopes to eventually use the information gathered from surveys and interviews to put together a series of actions that can help the Town of Evanston. solve problems like flooding.

In anticipation of the increased effects of climate change, the City is conducting a study examining where future flooding could occur, Ms. Ruen said. By comparing this information with that collected in their own survey, the We are Water team wants to assess whether people worried about flooding are also the most sensitive.

Sent at the start of the pandemic, the project’s survey asked residents if they think Lake Michigan is accessible, how important they value the lake, if they fear their water will be cut off, and how badly. they trust Evanston’s tap water. In addition to the survey, the We are Water team conducted live interviews with residents on the same topics.

“We want the results of our work to be useful and linked to real priorities,” said Dr Venkataramanan. One of We are Water’s plans is to increase accessibility by the lake and eliminate beach tokens, she said. Using the research results, the team is preparing a report, which could be used in conjunction with other efforts to provide residents with universal beach access.

We are Water is also studying the relationship between homeless residents and water, including whether they suffer from water insecurity and how connected they feel to the lake, Dr Venkataramanan said.

In another initiative, the survey asked residents about their perceptions of the safety of Evanston’s drinking water. Dr Venkataramanan said that according to the survey, the majority of residents filter tap water, which is interesting because the city is located next to one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world and has ‘an excellent treatment plan.

“There is a lot of confidence in the water, but there is this level of uncertainty,” she said.

We are Water wants to help communicate this uncertainty to the City and let residents know that they don’t need to spend money to buy bottled water, Dr Venkataramanan said.

Ms. Ruen works to increase community engagement and educate residents about their proximity to Lake Michigan. She called her work a “parallel process” to research conducted by Dr Venkataramanan. Part of community engagement involves art projects, organized by Ms. Ruen at local markets and other community gatherings. At these awareness events, she asks residents to create a work of art that answers the following questions: What does it mean to you to live in a city next to Lake Michigan?

Ms Ruen said she hopes the We are Water project will help people realize the value of the lake. “One of our secret goals is not just to find out what people think of the lake, but to educate people about how great it is to live here,” she said.

We are Water Evanston will be hosting arts awareness events at the upcoming Evanston Made Makers Markets on August 6 and September 4. Residents can also attend a free public visual art workshop at Robert Crown Reading Garden on July 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Because the Town of Evanston’s Climate Resilience Action Plan (CARP) does not highlight water justice issues, Ms Ruen said We are Water is trying to raise awareness of those concerns. Accessibility of natural spaces is seen as an environmental justice issue, so beach tokens – which limit accessibility – should be addressed in CARP, she said. Until a new plan is drafted that addresses water justice issues, We are Water is working to fill this gap.

In January, several Northwestern students got involved in the We are Water project. Ms Venkataramanan said students, who learn to analyze data quantitatively and qualitatively, are increasingly connected with Evanston in the process. She said students are also working to disseminate research results in creative and impactful ways.

Northwestern undergraduate students Annika Mittu and Erin McCotter sift through interviews and polls to identify trends. They work on a document and think of ways to disseminate the information.

Colleen O’Brien, a Northwestern PhD student in environmental engineering, studies how urban green spaces can reduce flooding while benefiting communities in other ways. She works closely with Dr Venkataramanan, examining flooding in Chicago, and says she is excited about how the data collected could inform city actions and policies.


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