Gardeners Say Access to Water Limited by New Chicago Rules

Community gardeners have often relied on hydrants for water, but say the new rules are impacting their ability to retrieve it

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The cost to operate community gardens in Chicago is getting more expensive.  The result is more difficulty accessing water and more abandoned garden plots, according to the gardeners.

Community gardeners have often relied on city hydrants on a temporary basis to provide water for their vegetables.  The process required a city permit that typically cost several hundred dollars.

This year however, the city’s Department of Water Management has begun to require the use of a backflow prevention valve to receive a permit to use a hydrant.

According to Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), the total cost of acquiring, installing and certifying a Reduced Pressure Zone (RPZ) unit is approximately $1,500.

“It’s made the experience a lot more challenging for growers throughout the city and now it’s coming with a significant cost as well,” said AUA executive director Sean Ruane.

Ruane estimates that there are more than one thousand community gardens across the city.

“The city needs to recognize that this is a huge shift from the previous policy and that they need to work with us and growers and with other food system partners to make sure that these new costs and these new administrative barriers are meeting growers half way so that they can actually access this water and continue to run their operations,” Ruane said.

The Peterson Garden Project operates several community gardens across Chicago.  Organizers were recently granted permits to install and operate RPZ units on nearby fire hydrants.

However, member gardeners say their access to the water has been limited.

“A RPZ unit has to be attached to the hydrant each time the troughs need to be filled.  It can’t be left on because they are stolen almost immediately,” said Rebecca Rico, executive director of the Peterson Garden Project. 

Rico said unlike previous years when a hose was connected to a hydrant all season, if water runs out or a gardener misses their shift, then there is no water until the next volunteer arrives to attach the valve on the hydrant.

A spokesperson for the Department of Water Management said the changes were made to protect public health and prevent any cross-contamination from an open hydrant into the city's water system.

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