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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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