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Swimming upstream

To make informed choices about managing water supply and demand, comprehensive geographic and seasonal data on water consumption and source recharge is needed. Until May 19, when the Illinois House approved Senate Bill 2184 by a vote of 114-0 (it passed the Senate unanimously in April, and has benefitted from strong support from Gov. Pat Quinn), Illinois had no thorough, substantive means of collecting and analyzing water usage data. SB 2184 requires all high-volume users (more than 100,000 gallons a day, from groundwater or surface water) to report annual use to Illinois State Water Survey’s Water Inventory, providing all levels of government with the information necessary to understand consumption trends and make decisions about future growth and development.  

"Since the release of our report Troubled Waters in 2005, which showed Illinois’ water resources are in jeopardy without thoughtful planning, Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands have been advocating for a shift toward better data and more coordinated water supply planning in Illinois,” said MPC President MarySue Barrett. “We applaud state lawmakers, particularly Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines), and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration for taking action to institute mandatory reporting now, so that when the next big drought occurs, communities are better prepared to avoid shortages.” 

However, funding is needed to ensure the state and regions have the capacity and resources to make use of this important new data.  Without funding, the value of SB 2184 is imperiled on three fronts:

First, the State Water Survey, now housed within the University of Illinois, will need a significant increase of staff and resources to collect and analyze the new data that will result from mandatory reporting. SB2184 grants agricultural irrigators a five-year exemption from required reporting, and allows for aggregated reporting by an Illinois State Water Survey-approved group, relieving individual irrigators of the need to report. The five-year window would give the Illinois State Water Survey time to develop user-friendly, but scientifically legitimate, means and methods for aggregated reporting. The state budget and University of Illinois must account for these new demands.

Second, over the past three years Illinois has been moving toward a statewide framework for regional water supply planning. The two regional planning groups, one in northeastern Illinois and one centered on the Mahomet Aquifer of east central Illinois, have been developing consensus-driven, stakeholder-informed plans for sustainable water management. Those plans are nearing completion, but continuing support is needed to implement them. Regional planning should be primarily funded through the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR), but recent budget proposals demonstrate that state support for this critical effort is threatened. IDNR should be provided with the resources needed to support the existing regional planning groups, and to create additional groups in other parts of the state.

Third, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) provides staff support and facilitates the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply Planning Group, dedicating its own resources to complement IDNR funding. However, recent iterations of state budget proposals have zeroed out CMAP’s budget for non-transportation planning. Continued planning for a sustainable water supply is only one of the many reasons the state needs to restore the Comprehensive Regional Planning Fund.

As Illinois’ population increases and climate warms, the statewide water supply is stressed more and more every day. The latest research from the State Water Survey shows that “deep bedrock aquifers cannot be counted on to meet all future demand scenarios” in northeastern Illinois. To avoid future water shortages, the FY 2010 state budget should support all aspects of regional water supply planning – research and scientific expertise from the State Water Survey, technical support by IDNR, and regional plan implementation. 

“Accurate data on water use is an absolute necessity for making informed choices on balancing supply and demand,” said Openlands Deputy Director Joyce O’Keefe. “Now we face a new choice: Pay now or pay later. And later might be too late.” 

For more information, or to support MPC and Openlands’ water work, please contact Josh Ellis at jellis@metroplanning.org or (312) 863-6045.

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