Flickr user Doran (CC)
Northeastern Illinois doesn't only source its water from Lake Michigan. Many communities are on groundwater.
The Ill. State Water Survey, the “it” agency that has been monitoring and modeling water resources here in Illinois for more than a century, released a seminal report in the Fall of 2015 titled: Changing Groundwater Levels in the Sandstone Aquifers of Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin: Impacts on Available Water Supply.
This robust report outlines the findings of Ill. State Water Survey’s “largest synoptic measurement of water levels (i.e. heads) in Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone wells since 1980.”
Which in plain English translates to: They measured water levels in wells throughout 33 counties in Northern Illinois in order to better understand freshwater storage and aquifer levels—how much groundwater we have. The results require attention by communities throughout Northeastern Illinois.
Why? It is important to understand that many communities in Northeastern Illinois are on groundwater, or a combination of groundwater and surface water. Not all of our region sources its water from Illinois’ allotted diversion of Lake Michigan water, which is limited by a U.S. Supreme Court Decree, and managed by the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources’ Office of Water Resources. So while we may think our region enjoys an unlimited amount of fresh water for consumption that is actually incorrect, untrue.
And the report highlights this fact:
“The more severe drawdown in northeastern Illinois has resulted in local areas where [well] heads have fallen below the top of the sandstone, known as desaturation. Desaturation of a sandstone aquifer can create a number of water quality and quantity concerns. The uppermost sandstone…was observed to be partially desaturated in portions of Will, Kane and Kendall Counties…Other areas in these counties are at risk of desaturation…Simulations from a groundwater flow model indicate that the risk of desaturation will increase with increased future withdrawals.”
The report’s findings highlight the need for coordinated water supply planning in Northeastern Illinois in order to ensure everyone has sustainable water resources now and into the future. Current groundwater users in our region—including municipalities, self-supplied commercial and industrial facilities and irrigators—are at risk of water quality and groundwater desaturation with the potential for existing wells to be no longer usable by some estimates in the next few decades. And it should be noted that groundwater and surface water levels are interconnected—the impacts in one affect the viability of the other.
Water quantity is not the only issue we need to come to terms with and collaborate on as a region. Increasing water pollution, emerging contaminants and old water infrastructure in need of repair and replacement all require our attention. The recent, devastating situation in Flint, Mich., hopefully reminds all of us that water service is not something to take for granted. Communities and their utilities have a responsibility to manage their water infrastructure appropriately to ensure safe and reliable water service now and into the future.
That is why Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), the Northwest Water Planning Alliance and the City of Aurora are hosting a water supply forum for elected and appointed officials and water industry practitioners in Northeastern Illinois. It is important for our community leaders and water industry experts to have an interactive discussion about what Northeastern Illinois’ pressing water supply issues are—right now today. This event will provide valuable information about the causes and implications of our water supply issues, as well as discuss some existing solutions for ensuring clean and plentiful water for generations to come.
This not-to-miss event will feature an opening address by Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, and a lunch keynote by international water resource expert and former general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority Pat Mulroy.
If you are a community official, please register today for this interactive forum to discuss current challenges and workable solutions to tackling Northeastern Illinois’ most pressing water supply issues. Now is the time to ensure safe and reliable water service for the health of our communities and the prosperity of our region.
The data is in. The issues are real. Please join us.