About Groundwater

A groundwater primer from the United States Geological Survey ⇒.

Ground-Water Availability in the United States

“Ground water is among the Nation’s most important natural resources. It provides half our drinking water and is essential to the vitality of agriculture and industry, as well as to the health of rivers, wetlands, and estuaries throughout the country. Large-scale development of ground-water resources with accompanying declines in ground-water levels and other effects of pumping has led to concerns about the future availability of ground water to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs. The challenges in determining ground-water availability are many. This report examines what is known about the Nation’s ground-water availability and outlines a program of study by the U.S. Geological Survey Ground-Water Resources Program to improve our understanding of ground-water availability in major aquifers across the Nation. The approach is designed to provide useful regional information for State and local agencies who manage ground-water resources, while providing the building blocks for a national assessment. The report is written for a wide audience interested or involved in the management, protection, and sustainable use of the Nation’s water resources.” -Thomas E. Reilly, Kevin F. Dennehy, William M. Alley, and William L. Cunningham

The U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1323 on groundwater is available online from the U.S. Geological Survey. Click Here.

To learn more about McHenry County’s Water Resources Department, Click Here.

McHenry County Groundwater Contamination Issues

The Illinois Department of Public Health is advising Union area residents who rely on private wells to get them tested for possible groundwater contamination. NW Herald article. December 2009
IEPA requires Crystal Lake & Fox River Grove to notify public water supply users about groundwater contamination: Read the CL press release here, and the FRG press releaseDecember, 2009

State Investigating Former Toastmaster Site in Algonquin:

Recently, a meeting was held in Algonquin with IDOT & IEPA regarding the Former Toastmaster property contamination.  In the process of looking at the Toastmaster property while considering the Rte. 31 by-pass, IDOT found groundwater and surface contamination.  30 -40 monitoring wells were scattered around the site (which is between the bike path, Rte 31, the town park & Crystal Creek).  Ground water showed contamination and IEPA has determined some VOCs in groundwater have evaporated to the surface.  Concern is with these leaking into homes, St. John Lutheran School  and businesses.  Weston is the contractor that will conduct soil gas sampling in December.  IDOT plans to buy the building and remove it and the contamination (probably next summer).  

The Algonquin library is the repository for related info.  Our county health department has a copy also.  The study and follow up materials may become available on line in the future.  

Residents and business people who were at the meeting were interested in the health aspects, techniques for managing the vapor intrusion and the cost of remediation. 

Read more:  Northwest Herald article and TribLocal. November, 2009

Water shortages, present and future

Recently, a number of editorials and articles have appeared in the local press regarding our water supply. Perhaps this is due to the unique conjunction of the severe drought this summer and the recent unveiling of the McHenry County Groundwater Resources Management Plan that predicts a long-term shortage of water in southeastern McHenry County. Since there is some unusual attention presently focused on water supply (a resource that is generally taken for granted), we should use this moment in time to its best advantage.

The voluminous Groundwater Resources study forecasts that the county’s population in 2000 of about 260,000 will likely rise to 340,000 by 2020, and to nearly 450,000 by 2030. Accompanying this will be an increase in total water demand from about 35 million gallons per day (mgd) in 2000, to about 50 mgd in 2020, and to more than 60 mgd in 2030. The report indicates that all of the water will likely need to come from groundwater extraction, because at present, there are no practical alternatives in sight. The growth in population and corresponding increase in water use is expected to be concentrated mainly in southeastern McHenry County. In at least 2 townships, Algonquin and Grafton, groundwater extraction will exceed the sustainable yield of all of the underlying aquifers before 2020 and will do so by a wide margin by 2030. Beyond 2030, if municipalities are fully built out in accordance with existing comprehensive plans, half of the county’s townships will need to extract more groundwater than the sustainable yield of the aquifers beneath them. Since the forecasted population increase is expected to occur mainly from new land development in areas served by municipal water supply and sewers, most of the groundwater extracted will be exported from the county to rivers via discharge from sewage treatment plants.

The extent and magnitude of forecasted groundwater extraction beyond the sustainable aquifer yield could have a devastating effect on the area’s lakes, streams, and wetlands as water tables are lowered. This phenomenon has occurred in other developing areas that rely solely on groundwater. The Defenders expressed this concern early in the preparation of the County Groundwater plan, and recent presentations of the plan have contained more pronounced warnings regarding the adverse environmental consequences of excess water extraction.

In the Plan, many measures are discussed as a means to address the potential shortage including a county wide water conservation program; protection of (privately owned) recharge areas; public acquisition and preservation of open space and natural recharge areas; and creation of a county-wide Water Authority. The Water Authority would oversee, among other things, determination of shallow aquifer safe yields, permitting of new wells, development of remote well fields, and investigation of surface water supplies such as the Fox and Rock rivers.

The only mention in the Plan of a specific means to provide funding for implementation of the above measures is one currently provided to Water Authorities by Illinois statute. It consists of “a general tax on all taxable property within the authority’s corporate limits.” In my personal opinion, a general tax misplaces the responsibility for mitigating a problem that will be brought about solely by future land development. The principle that land development should pay its own way has been well established in a number of areas. For example, residential development’s impact on schools has resulted in the widely accepted requirement that impact fees be paid to local school districts to help offset the cost of building schools for additional students. Similar impact fees are assessed to create funding for additional parks, roads, and other infrastructure resources that are required to accommodate development. It is entirely consistent that a countywide system should be devised to levy a groundwater depletion-based impact fee on new development in order to fund the measures necessary to responsibly manage demands for increased groundwater withdrawals caused exclusively by land development.

I hope that Defenders members will support implementation of many of the recommendations in the Groundwater Resources Management Plan, and resist the notion of a general tax to fund them. I hope that there will be support for a groundwater depletion-based impact fee imposed on future land development. Most importantly, I hope that the future water shortage issue will give local officials reason to pause and consider the carrying capacity of our land before making decisions on new land development proposals.

Ed Ellinghausen is on the Defenders Board of Directors and actively participates in our Water Resources Committee. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer with a degree in civil engineering. Early in his career he was a field engineer investigating the adequacy and reliability of municipal water systems throughout the U.S . Recently semi-retired, he has been doing research on the groundwater system that sustains Boone Creek near his home.

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