SB2184, sponsored by Ill. Sen. Susan Garrett (D – Highwood), would require all high-volume water users, in all parts of the state, to report groundwater withdrawals and surface water.
Illinois, unlike most neighboring states, does not require water use reporting, even by high-volume users. Because reporting is voluntary, data is incomplete. The Ill. State Water Survey (ISWS), which manages the Water Inventory Program and models water supply and demand trends based in large part on the data from reporting, must rely on numerous assumptions as a result. A 2005 study from Southern Illinois University estimated that from 2000 to 2025, Illinois’ population would increase 12 percent, while total water withdrawals would increase 28 percent. As demand for water grows, and supplies are further strained, our ability to make prudent choices about conservation strategies, such as demand management and infrastructure repairs, is directly related to how much we can definitively know about our water.
SB2184 would amend the Illinois Water Use Act to require reporting by all high-volume users (more than 100,000 gallons a day, from groundwater or surface water), in all parts of the state. Since the 2005 release of Troubled Waters, MPC, in partnership with Openlands, has been advocating for just such a policy shift. It would grant agricultural irrigators a five-year exemption from required reporting, and allow for aggregated reporting by an ISWS-approved group, which would relieve individual irrigators of the need to report to ISWS. While this is not ideal – in other states, such as Arkansas, all irrigators have physical gauges to assess actual usage, which results in more geographically nuanced data – it does avoid the need for substantial capital investment by the state or individual users. The five-year window would give ISWS time to develop user-friendly, but scientifically legitimate, means and methods for aggregated reporting.
The Illinois Water Use Act currently requires high-volume wells to be registered with the appropriate County Soil and Water Conservation District for possible drought management. However, high-volume users in the six-county Chicago area are exempt from this responsibility, and users of high-volume intakes from surface water (rivers, lakes, ponds) are not to required to register anywhere in the state. SB2184 would end the registration exemption for northeastern Illinois, which MPC supports, but not expand the registration requirement to surface water. This is unfortunate – surface water and groundwater are interconnected, and state policy should recognize that. Effective drought management requires an understanding of the entire water system, and the State of Illinois should protect itself and its water supply by requiring high-volume water intakes also be registered.
As MPC and Openlands prepare their third set of policy recommendations to shape Illinois’ water future – following on Changing Course in 2004 and Troubled Waters – we are optimistic that 2009 will see Illinois make substantial progress toward ensuring a sustainable water supply for the years to come. SB2184 is a great start, and we endorse it.
If you have any questions about MPC's water supply work, or would like to support future efforts, please contact Josh Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 863-6045.