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Great Lakes Article:

Kane eyes its water resources
By Dan Chanzit
Kane County Chronicle

Randy Miller is doing his part to conserve water, one brick at a time.
Miller is Geneva's water supply manager. There is a brick in his toilet tank to displace water.

"You'd think it isn't saving much water, just one brick," Miller said. "But I've got kids and a wife, and we flush the toilet 15 times a day. That's 15 bricks."

That may seem like a drop in the bucket, but local water officials have reason for their concern. Water resources are limited and demand is on the rise.

A 2001 survey by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission warned of water shortages within 20 years in Kane County if development continues at its current pace.

Kane County's population was 404,119 in 2000, up from 317,471 in 1990. The population is expected to reach 700,000 by 2030.
The state and county have commissioned water studies to get a better idea of how much water there is to go around. Campton Township officials asked for their own study to provide more local data.
Growth has water officials concerned.

"To be able to water your lawn in 2003 means you may not have drinking water in 2053," said Paul Schuch, the county's water resources director. "Watering lawns is a very expensive luxury."

Results from the state and local water studies will be compiled into a computer simulation. The model charts private and municipal wells. It can show trends in each of the aquifers. It also can tell planners where to dig for water.

The data will become critical for local leaders as they consider what to do with land that is ripe for development.

"We won't be reacting to issues that are of immediate concern. We'll be able to do some long-term planning," Schuch said. "We'll be ahead of communities to the east. We will have a better database."

Officials can use the computer model and database to see how new developments will impact water resources.

Bob Kay, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey, asked Campton officials to identify specific proposals for a computer model.
"We can run a scenario or two," Kay told the trustees.

Where water comes from

Several types of wells in central Kane County tap into underground water sources.

Glacial wells are less than 100 feet deep. Shallow bedrock wells are about 250 feet deep. Deep bedrock wells are from 500 to 600 feet deep. Shallow wells in northern and central Kane County can access these sources.

Most of northern Illinois' water comes from the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system, which includes the St. Peter, Mount Simon and Ironton-Galesville sandstone aquifers. The system runs through southern Wisconsin and Minnesota, most of Iowa, and reaches parts of central Illinois and northern Missouri.

Most municipalities take their water from these ultra-deep wells in sandstone formations more than 700 feet underground. Some of these wells are as deep as 1,800 feet.

Because each well type draws from different aquifers, a water level drop in one well does not necessarily mean a drop in the others.
Campton residents have reported significant drops. Residents there use well and septic systems, not municipal water. Most private wells are shallow.

After residents reported dry wells two years ago, Campton trustees imposed a building moratorium. They wanted to wait on the water study results before allowing new subdivisions.

Since 1995, some Campton wells have dropped 5 feet. Others have dropped by as much as 30 feet.

"It is a cause for concern," Kay told Campton officials. "That means there is an increased chance that someday you're going to turn on your faucet and nothing is going to come out."

Enough quality water

Pending the outcome of the state and local water studies, Kay said there appears to be enough water to serve Northern Illinois as long as the aquifers can naturally recharge as water seeps back into the ground.

The process can take hundreds of years.

Schuch is optimistic. He points to places such as Mill Creek, Fox Mill, Glenwood School for Boys, Silver Glen Estates and Riverwoods Christian Center. Those communities treat wastewater and use that water in irrigation.

The water returns to the soil and eventually recharges the aquifer it came from. The process is a true hydrologic cycle.

"It is a complete loop to the system," Schuch said. "They reuse and recycle water."

Examples such as those communities give him confidence. People are learning. People are taking water conservation seriously, and resources likely will be available in the future, he said.

"I have a level of comfort that there will be enough water through the next century," Schuch told county officials in June. "There are sufficient water supplies in the aquifers in Kane County."

It is hard to determine or picture a worst-case scenario. Officials said water sources would not disappear unless the entire Midwest developed rapidly overnight and did not put water back into the ground.

Alternate sources

Water is not only underground, and local officials have explored alternative sources. There is a large lake to the east, and a river runs through Kane County.

The county is about 30 miles from Lake Michigan, from which many DuPage communities draw their water.

Local officials have considered joining the DuPage Water Commission, which would allow them to pipe in water from the lake.

Geneva officials said joining the consortium would be too expensive. Most of the cost comes from connecting to DuPage pipes that would bring the water here.

That is why some officials say they first would consider drawing water from the Fox River. Elgin and Aurora residents drink water that is a blend of river and well water.

Local officials said they are years away from considering the Fox as a water source. It is too expensive to clean for consumption, especially for smaller towns.

At issue is the water quality. It contains fertilizers and pesticides from farming, as well as silt and bacteria.

"It would be too expensive to remove," Dillon said. "Fifty years from now? Maybe. It could come into play someday, but for now, we think we have enough well water to last us."

Doing your part

Most homeowners like green lawns - at least those who do not work in the water industry. John Donahue, Geneva's water superintendent, said one good rain will bring brown turf back to life.

"I don't think anyone here in the water department waters their lawn," Donahue said. "It's just a waste."

On average, Geneva residents use 2.8 million gallons each day. In the summer, they dump an additional 2 million gallons on their lawns. That's 4.8 million gallons Geneva must draw from its wells each day.

Batavia residents draw 3 million gallons per day and use another 3 million gallons in the summer to water their lawns.

Public works officials said the region could save millions of gallons of water if homeowners let their lawns go brown.

"We ask people to let their lawns go dormant unless they just put in sod," said John Dillon, Batavia's water superintendent. "Even when we saw the worst drought back in 1988, the lawns here looked like a desert. Most of that grass came right back with the first rain."

Kay said he has not watered his lawn in 12 years.

"I think I'm a good consumer," he said. "There are a lot of things people can do."

Take shorter showers. Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. Install water-saving toilets and showerheads.

"When you turn on the faucet, ask yourself if you need this water," Kay said. "Turn it off when you are not using it. Be aware that this is not an inexhaustible resource."

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