Illinois Going Dry?

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Although the state of Illinois is fortunate enough to be located alongside the world’s sixth largest freshwater source, it is not exempt from having to contend with long-term water problems.

Water problems in Illinois became evident last summer as record high temperatures forced many water bans and required the state to reassess a dwindling water supply. State officials had addressed this problem in the past, but it was basically ignored until recently.

Last month, a study titled “Troubled Waters: Meeting Future Water Needs in Illinois” was released by the Metropolitan Planning Council, Openlands and the Campaign for Sensible Growth. It concluded that population growth and urban sprawl over the next 20 years threaten to use up more water than Illinois will be able to provide.

Specifically, the northeastern Illinois region— an area that includes the city of Chicago and suburbs—currently uses 18 billion gallons of water per day. The study predicted that figure to grow 28% by the year 2025 as a result of population growth, development and increased consumption.

The state of Illinois draws its water from several sources that include Lake Michigan, groundwater and other surface waters, such as reservoirs and rivers. However, Illinois is limited in how much water it can take from Lake Michigan, and pollution and climate change are affecting the other water sources.

The report stated that water sources, including Lake Michigan, are now at or near the legally mandated limits and cannot be relied upon as significant sources of water for the region. The report went on to explain that water demand will have to be met by aquifers or other sources such as the Fox River. However, detailed knowledge of the location and amount of those sources is limited as of press time.

Many of the surrounding counties in the Chicago area are concerned about future water resources and have begun to gather data on water supplies in order to outline a plan to manage current and future water supplies.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich offered a response to the state’s water supply status in a press release: “It is critical for Illinois to get ahead of the curve when it comes to water supply planning.”

Plans for meeting water needs may include a statewide framework for regional water supply planning and management; evaluation of water demand on proposed land uses; water quantity and supply strategies in watershed plans; guidelines for water conservation practices; and the exploration of alternative wastewater treatment methods.

As Illinois proceeds with the challenge of establishing an overall plan for the state’s water supply, one can only wonder if other states have addressed their future water supply issues. Of course, coastal states can rely on desalination and the certain influx of desalination-related projects expected to come online in the near future.

If Illinois, which shares an enormous freshwater source with three other states, is this concerned about its water supply, what could that mean for your state?

Tim Gregorski, editorial director
tgregorski@sgcmail.com

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