EPA needs to hear from the East Central Illinois community about the Mahomet Aquifer.
Central Illinois enjoys a vast reserve of water, but none of us has ever seen it. Some 500 feet below our feet lies the Mahomet Aquifer, the sole water source for greater Champaign-Urbana and for as many as 750,000 people.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has given preliminary approval to designating the aquifer as the "sole source" for the region. Over the next three months, the agency is accepting public comment before taking final action. If the "sole-source" designation is approved, the Mahomet Aquifer would be the only water source in the state with such protection.
Given that clean water is essential to life, everyone in East Central Illinois is a stakeholder in this decision. And we urge the public to support the designation, as it offers an extra layer of regulatory protection to our vital resource.
Some may say the whole issue is a no-brainer: How can anyone oppose protecting our water source?
Before firing off an email to the EPA, here are a few factors you might want to consider.
First, the federal designation would add a layer of government review. Those who oppose an ever-expanding federal government may find more EPA scrutiny to be too much.
Second, the designation could create time-consuming obstacles for projects that offer economic benefits. For example, road projects — many of which use federal funds — would face higher costs as engineers would have to show that no harm would come to the aquifer. Farmers who participate in the federal crop insurance program may encounter similar problems.
Third, the designation is not a cure-all. Only projects that would use federal funds would be subject to EPA review. The designation itself, for example, would not prevent the Clinton landfill from accepting PCB wastes. In fact, it was the prospect of barrels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls being buried over the aquifer that motivated local officials from Champaign, Urbana, the county and elsewhere to advocate forcefully against the landfill's taking in these wastes.
Despite the potential drawbacks, we find the designation to be in the region's long-term interests.
So what's a citizen to do?
Here are three ways to let the EPA know your opinion:
Attend a public hearing: The first will be at 7:30 p.m. May 13 at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., C. The second is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 14 in Morton. Informational sessions will run from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. both nights.
Write a letter: Comments should be addressed to William Spaulding, U.S. EPA (WG-15J), 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604-3590.
Send an email: The address for the EPA's Spaulding is email@example.com.
If you would like to research the subject further, try these resources:
Draft documents are available at epa.gov/region5/water/gwdw/mahomet/index.htm. Documents are also available at the Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green St., C.