Support for a new Water Hydrant Permit for Urban Farms
We, the undersigned urban farmers, community organizations, workforce development programs, local food advocates, and Chicago residents, are writing in support of a new water hydrant permit for commercial urban farms.

Together, we have led the way for Chicago to become an urban agriculture capital in the US and abroad. The City of Chicago has recognized and supported these efforts as the movement for locally grown food has surged over the past decade. One of the key ways that we can be supported to continue this growth is through affordable access to municipal water. Permitted access to fire hydrant water will increase food access in all neighborhoods across the city and bolster neighborhood-based entrepreneurship.

We are collectively requesting that a new urban farm hydrant permit be created for urban farms and include the following:
- An affordable, flat seasonal rate.
- Incremental cost increase dependent on cultivated square footage.
- A waiver of fees and taxes associated with sewer costs.
- Access to a hydrant fitting and key for City of Chicago fire hydrants.
- A waiver of the fee associated with removing a custodial cap.

Our rationale is as follows:
Many community gardens and urban farms access their water through hydrants. Two hydrant permits are currently available from the Department of Water Management (DWM): the community garden permit is $106.73/season for gardens 3,000 ft​2​ and under ($45.91/season for each additional 3,000 ft​​2​ or under) and the temporary ‘festival’ hydrant rate is $83.78/day. Recent inspections by DWM have created confusion, causing some farms to lose access to hydrant water, unless they pay the temporary hydrant permit rate. The temporary ‘festival’ rate at $83.78/day is 120 times the cost of the community garden permit and unaffordable for urban farms that need daily water for irrigation and post-harvest handling throughout the growing season. Additionally, gardens that have recently gained access to a fire hydrant have often been met with the barrier of the $950 custodial cap removal fee. This fee is unaffordable for self-funded community-based gardens and farm business operations.

Many urban farms also have short-term leases for their land, so it is cost-prohibitive for them to invest in more permanent infrastructure, like installing a water main or a Buffalo box. The average annual income from produce sales for an incubator farmer in the City of Chicago is modest, typically around $10,000/year. An agricultural water rate should correspond with this level of income, and most ⅛ acre farms do not use more than 1000 gallons/week. Furthermore, municipal water, which is tested and treated for pathogens, is the safest source of water for commercial urban farms and reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Across the country, many cities have developed their own solutions to this issue. A recent facilitated discussion and poll with more than 100 growers in Chicago showed that a model similar to that in Cleveland, Ohio is favorable. A water hydrant permit that charges a reasonable rate with the farm’s voluntary participation in a conservation protocol in Cleveland costs $92.80 for a 22-week season for a 2-acre farm. A flat agricultural water rate for hydrants, based on production area size with a corresponding conservation plan, is another solution, one that more appropriately aligns with farm budgets and promotes water conservation. Urban farmers should not be punished for making limited incomes. Production of food by locally-owned businesses should be celebrated as they fulfill the three pillars of the 2019 City of Chicago’s Resilience Strategy (source:Resilient.Chicago.gov) .

Furthermore, we view improved soil health through green infrastructure, like urban farming, as a step in the right direction towards climate resilience for Chicago. According to the City’s endorsed EPA statement, “Midwestern cities with impervious infrastructure may result in surface runoff entering combined storm and sewage drainage systems.” In 2019, as of September 30th, Chicago has experienced 38 individual days of combined sewer overflows into Chicago area waterways (source: MWRD). As growers and local food advocates, we recognize the value in soil not only for producing food, but also for its capacity to capture stormwater and reduce runoff from adjacent impervious pavement into our sewer system.

Additionally, unlike other industries, who flush the majority of the water they draft back into our sewer system, urban farms contribute comparatively very little to our sewer system (source: Jelinski 2017). The majority of water drafted by urban farms is taken up by plants and embedded in healthier soil. Both Baltimore and Cleveland have partnered with their water departments to institute a flat rate paid once a growing season (March-November) recognizing that water stays on-site. Consequently, we believe farmers should not pay sewer charges for the purposes of irrigating and washing farm products grown on-site. We are asking the Department of Water Management and City administration to work together with us to find an equitable solution for urban farms to access hydrant water for irrigation.

Our city’s health, environment, and economy benefits from a thriving urban agriculture industry. The creation of an equitable and affordable hydrant permit ensures this basic infrastructural right is extended to urban farms. At the core of the water issue is what it could yield: more equitable food access for our neighborhoods. We believe it is to our collective benefit to ensure that all our city’s inhabitants have easy access to locally and sustainably grown food, that our local businesses can thrive, and that we improve the health of our environment for ourselves and generations to come.


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