They call it aquaponics — raising fish and vegetables in a symbiotic environment combining aquaculture and hydroponics. And Evanston officials are trying to decide what to do about it.

After city staff received some inquiries from people considering opening industrial-scale aquaponics operations in town or pursuing the activity as a hobby, an Evanston city panel this week took a first look at possible rules to regulate it.

Acquaponics has all the attributes that would appear to appeal to Evanstonians who’ve backed community gardens and even backyard chickens — and it could become a new industry to fill some vacant warehouse space — economic development that could provide more jobs.

But this is also the Evanston that can turn out a crowd to oppose almost any new idea — like backyard chickens, for instance.

YouTube video

Top: An aquaponic setup in a Milwaukee greenhouse (Wikimedia image by Charlie Vinz). Above: A promotional YouTube video from Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii.

So, like a Tilapia that might nibble on the dangling roots of a lettuce plant growing atop its pond, the Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission looked at a memo on the issue from Zoning Planner Melissa Klotz Monday night and decided to take up the question of regulation again at a meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16.

The memo suggests that hobby-size aquaponic ponds in residential areas are unlikely to be a cause for much concern — but suggests there might be a need to define how big an operation can get before it’s no longer considered a hobby or accessory use.

And, for commercial operations, it suggests a need to differentiate aquaponics from agricultural uses not generally permitted in the city, and to determine the commercial and industrial zones in which aquaponics should be allowed.

There already is a sizable aquaponics operation in Milwaukee that has a branch on Chicago’s south side.

Plan Commissioner Dave Galloway said, “If we can have chickens in back yards, why not aquaponic ponds? I think it’s cool.”

But the city’s chief planner, Dennis Marino, suggested commercial operations might not be appropriate for business districts, and should be limited to industrial zones instead.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Kudos to city staff for creative thinking

    These aquaponics businesses are popping up all over the place.  It is a great idea to make this a recognized micro-enterprise.

    The commercial operations are small-scale, have no impacts on neighbors, and create locally-produced food.

    It is a no-brainer.  Hopefully the council will endorse this proposal and Economic Develoment will recruit aquaponics businesses.

  2. And lets dump the residue

    And lets dump the residue right into the sewer or canal so it can run to the water table.

    1. Actually, these are entirely

      Actually, these are entirely recirculating farms – they are closed-loop and can reuse the waste generated in the system. The fish create nutrients in the water – the plants need those nutrients to grow – when he water goes to the plants, the plants soak up the nutrents and then the water is circulated water back, cleaned, to the fish for re-use. Even solid waste can be drained and used as amazing fertilizer for soil-grown plants and trees. So…there is no waste to dump in a sewer or canal. You shoudl check out to learn more. This is a fairly well loved method of growing local, sustainable veggies, fruits, herbs and fish, especially in urban environments.

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