Dec 28, 2000

Water Withdrawal Law Needed in Illinois

Illinois should adopt a water law like that of Iowa and Wisconsin to regulate water withdrawal from streams and prevent rationing and poor water quality, according a University of Illinois engineer.

"At present, there is no surface water withdrawal law," said Wayland Eheart, a professor of civil engineering. "The state controls what you can put in the water, but not what you take out. Anyone can drop an intake hose in a stream and remove all the water his pump will take." Iowa and Wisconsin require legal permits for surface water withdrawals.

Illinois' long-term trend of summer droughts means "the potential for disaster is huge," Eheart writes in the current issue of "Environmental Policy Review," a newsletter published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign department of natural resources and environmental sciences. Several droughts within a short time could impel farmers to use water from nearby streams and creeks for irrigation. Stream levels would decrease, the ability of the stream to absorb pollutants would be lowered and poor water quality would result.

Although most Illinois farmers do not irrigate, there is a trend toward using big center-pivot rigs to water high-value crops such as seed corn. The typical rig, covering 160 acres, can consume water at the same rate as a medium-sized city because a large portion of the water evaporates. By contrast, most water used by households and industries is recycled. "It goes down the drain, is treated in the sewage treatment facility and goes back into streams and lakes for re-use," Eheart explained.

(Source: Environment News Service)