SPRINGFIELD – In response to this year's drought and the ever-increasing residential and commercial demand for fresh water, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday ordered a statewide water supply study that will likely focus first on East Central Illinois.
"It is critical for Illinois to get ahead of the curve when it comes to water supply planning," Blagojevich stated in a written release. "Last summer's drought demonstrated to us that careful management of our water must be a priority so we always have enough supply for people to drink and use, for our industries like agriculture, and for our fish and wildlife habitats."
The Champaign-based State Water Survey, the Illinois Interagency Coordinating Committee on Groundwater and the Illinois State Water Plan Task Force have already identified nine areas that are most at risk for water shortages, called "Priority Water Quantity Planning Areas."
Under the governor's executive order, the collection and analysis of data needed to draft regional water quantity plans for at least two of those areas must begin by the end of 2006, said Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Those two areas will most likely be the Illinois Deep Aquifer in Northeastern Illinois and the Mahomet Aquifer in East Central Illinois, according to McCloud.
The Mahomet Aquifer supplies water to Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Paxton, Lincoln, Hoopeston, Mahomet, Monticello, Clinton and other towns within a 4,000-square-mile area.
"Due to the growth in the area along with major livestock facilities, agricultural irrigation and power plants, East Central Illinois is likely to experience strain on their water supplies," the governor's news release stated.
State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, has been expressing similar concerns for years.
As a state representative in February 2001, Winkel introduced legislation that would require the State Water Survey and State Geological Survey to do a study of the Mahomet Aquifer and other sources of drinking water throughout the state. He said the study was needed to ensure that an adequate quantity and quality of water would be available to future generations.
It passed the House, but never made it out of the Senate rules committee, so Winkel introduced the measure again in February 2003 after he had moved over to the Senate. That time, it passed unanimously, both in the Senate and in the House, where state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, was the chief sponsor.
But Blagojevich vetoed the measure. In his veto message, the governor wrote that he supported "the study of the state's groundwater supply as a comprehensive and long-term approach to water supply management in Illinois," but did not feel that the state could afford the project.
In November 2003, the House and Senate voted to override that veto, and the bill became law anyway.
The study was expected to take at least a decade and cost up to $2 million a year to conduct, but it has yet to commence.
"To my knowledge, the Legislature never did approve a funding source for it," McCloud said.
Blagojevich is planning to put some money behind his new executive order, but McCloud declined to say exactly how much.
"We know that resources are required, and the governor is ready to make an investment in this project, but the amount will be determined based on availability as the state begins its budget process," he said.
The water study required by the governor's new executive order is much broader than the one required by Winkel's legislation, McCloud said.
"That was limited to aquifers," he said. "This covers watersheds, surface water and the needs of public water supply systems."
Winkel did not return calls seeking comment on Monday. The State Water Survey chief was out of the office and could not be reached.