URBANA — City council members tonight could give preliminary approval for administrators to begin working toward establishing a special designation for the Mahomet Aquifer that would give it more stringent protection against contamination.
Petitioning the U.S. EPA to designate the natural underground reservoir as a "sole-source aquifer" would put stricter rules on companies like Clinton Landfill, which is seeking a federal permit to bury hazardous waste above the aquifer.
Council members are scheduled to meet as the committee of the whole on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.
Getting the special designation from the EPA would require a detailed study of how important the natural reservoir is to the residents it serves. Officials estimate that the Mahomet Aquifer is the only viable source of drinking water for 750,000 residents in more than 80 central Illinois municipalities.
Because petitioning the EPA for the special designation is so technically-involved, the city is preparing to split the cost with the city of Champaign and the town of Normal. Officials think that initiating the project and, if necessary, defending the designation against any kind of legal challenge could cost up to $20,000.
Clinton Landfill in DeWitt County for years has been seeking approval from the U.S. EPA to bury polychlorinated biphenyl waste in a cell above the aquifer. Area municipalities have spent the last several months fighting the proposal in fear that the chemicals could leak from the landfill and work their way down to the source of the region's drinking water.
Landfill officials have assured that the waste cell they have built to hold the garbage meets all EPA regulations and will protect the aquifer for centuries.
The special EPA designation would not necessarily stop the landfill from burying PCBs above the aquifer, but officials have said it would put more stringent protection on the water source as the agency considers permits like the one that is pending now.