Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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Logan County in 1 of 2 regions identified as most at risk for water shortages and conflicts

Regional water supply committee delivers results of new 3-year study

Part 2: Where in this region would the water supply volume 1st become an issue, and why?

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[August 25, 2009]  Last week local officials and community planners were invited to hear the results of a three-year study of local water resources and how long the supply might last. Various members of the newly formed East Central Illinois Regional Water Supply Planning Committee were on hand to explain the results of that study.

RestaurantAt the conclusion of Part 1, Edward Mehnert of the University of Illinois Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability said that in the Lincoln area the Mahomet Aquifer is more saturated on the north side of town than it is on the south. Therefore, as the city's economic development partnership works to bring new industry in, they might want to promote an area on the north side of town if the company will need its own wells and be using large volumes of water.

He went on to say that every city and or county planner in the water supply planning region should be concerned about this, and they are encouraged to contact the committee for assistance in identifying proper locations for development, based on water needs.


Continuing on in Part 2...

Mehnert said that while the water supply seems to be secure in Logan County, that is not the case for the region on the whole.

Water supply planning committee member Jay Henry explained that in Champaign County there is cause for concern.

In that area, the aquifer is known as "confined," meaning that the water is trapped in dense soils and rock formations. Consequently it is not recharged by rainwater as quickly as it is in some areas, such as Mason County, where the aquifer is not confined by solid rock formations. The Mason County soils are sandier, making it easier for water to travel quickly back to the aquifer.

Measuring water use

To measure how water usage is affecting the Mahomet Aquifer, a measurement called "head" is used. Henry explained that the underground water is under pressure. When a well is dug, the pressure will cause the head to rise above the ceiling of the aquifer.

In 1930 a well dug in the Champaign area would produce approximately 180 feet of head. In 2007 a well identified as the Petro North Well had a head of only 80 feet, a 100-foot depletion over 73 years, or put another way, a loss of over 1 foot per year. Extending the scenario to 2050, it is plausible to say that the Petro North Well head will drop to below 40 feet.

Henry said that this is cause for concern in the entire region, and he stressed that this is not the worst-case scenario.

Should the region experience prolonged draught, lasting multiple years, the head on the well could drop to 25 feet or less.

When the head gets that low, it becomes not so much a matter of "Will the aquifer be dewatered?" as "when the aquifer will be dewatered."

Dewatered, put simply, means that it's being pumped out without sufficient recharging; in other words, the supply is diminishing.

Regional impact

As levels drop in the Champaign area, there is a probability that they will drop throughout the region, perhaps not to such a great extent, but nonetheless, it could happen.

The committee knows that waiting until that fateful day to take action is going to be a matter of "too little, too late." Steps need to be taken now to conserve this natural resource and assure that future generations will not be faced with an insurmountable dilemma.

The committee is recommending that every county and municipality in that county have a water conservation plan and that those plans be joined under the umbrella of the regional water planning committee.

Unified conservation plan recommended

In the past, and even now, municipalities have had plans but have put them together considering only themselves. The end result has sometimes been that while city officials were doing what was right for their community, they were inadvertently hurting another.

Melvin Pleines stepped up to recount the situation that ultimately led to the development of the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium, a group that has existed for over 10 years and has been an integral part of the regional committee's work.

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Briefly stated, he said that there were communities arguing over water rights. One wanted perhaps more than they needed, leaving others with less than enough.

As problems arose in the neighboring communities, it became apparent that these people were going to have to work together to assure that everyone was taken care of. Thus, the consortium was formed, and over the years of working together, has developed an acute understanding of the aquifer and how to keep it living for the future.

Henry also said that conservation in the region and following a unified plan need to be voluntary efforts.

He said that there is a very good reason that the regions should want to manage their areas without state involvement or state laws mandating what they do.

"State laws are made in Springfield, by people who may understand the needs of one area but not all," he said.

He went on to say that each region in the state is going to be different. Their water is going to come from other sources, their industrial needs may be different, and the populations may be different. Therefore it can't be a one-size-fits-all program such as a law would make it.

The committee is recommending that a new regional study be conducted every five years to monitor conservation efforts and assure that the aquifer is being protected.

Water consumption is highest in the industrial and agricultural sectors of the region. The committee wants to bring a greater awareness to these large-volume users, urging them to adopt modern water-saving methods and equipment whenever possible.

And while domestic use is the smallest part of the consumption scale, there are still things that homeowners can do to conserve water.


A flier passed out during the meeting indicated that 10 percent of all homes have leaks that can waste 90 gallons of water a day or more. That is almost 33,000 gallons a year, and the leaks are often easily corrected by repairing a toilet flapper, replacing a faucet or even just tightening a valve.

And, there are other recommendations, not the least of which is public education.

The committee has put together a list of online resources (available below) that will help readers understand more about what can be done to conserve water, including a link to the committee's own Web site, where one can read their 111-page report or a condensed version of it, which includes findings and recommendations for the region.


Recommended links:

East Central Illinois Regional Water Supply Planning Committee:

Mahomet Aquifer Consortium:

Illinois State Water Survey:

Illinois State Geological Survey:

Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts:

Illinois Department of Natural Resources:

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency:

Illinois Pollution Control Board:

Illinois Department of Agriculture:

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