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Some gaze west for water
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Sunday, September 04, 2006

The standard response to low-performing wells has long been to sink more wells.

Growth, however, concentrates people and water demand, and more wells increasingly is not the answer.

Experts say the discussion needs to tilt toward piping water from unpopulated areas to supply the needs of an ever-growing suburban population.

“As the area develops, there will be more areas where you have to literally import water into this area, for there to be sufficient water,” said Larry Thomas, chief operating officer with Crystal Lake engineering firm Baxter & Woodman. Though he's referring primarily to McHenry County, experts in neighboring counties have echoed similar sentiments.

Villages, townships or even counties may have to team up in an effort to all draw water from a part of the region that has more water than it's ever projected to need.

It's the reverse of the consortiums formed to make tapping into Lake Michigan possible.

“There's many places around the country and in Illinois where the well field for a community is not in the community. It's several miles away,” Thomas says.

“They pull the water from the ground and then they pipe it back to where they're using it,” Thomas said. “That's one of the alternatives that this county is going to have to consider if it's going to continue to develop.”

Going west is physically possible. The initial grunt work is political, Thomas said.

“From the engineering standpoint, yeah, I can get it done,” Thomas said. “Now find me the money and get the permission to do it.”

Villages and counties would need to coalesce on this issue, but some already are skeptical.

“That's not really a solution,” says John Kupar, a Campton Township trustee and geologist.

He thinks the focus ought to be better conservation efforts and management of what's available.

While Thomas projects the severe need won't hit for another decade or two, if discussions don't begin soon, he says engineers won't have the time to build the infrastructure necessary when that need does arise.

“Now is when you should be starting,” Thomas said. “If we wait 10 years, it's unlikely that we will have the resources in place in the time when we need them because it just takes that much time to get it done,” Thomas said.

If that happens, counties will be forced to take a Band-Aid approach to solving the problem to avert a crisis and will pay a whole lot more.

“You're more likely to end up with a lot more shortages of water in the future if you don't get going on it now,” Thomas said.

Though each town has to figure out its own path to water, the need is a regional one, which is why some areas such as southeast Wisconsin have formed government boards to oversee water needs.

The report from Thomas' firm outlined even creating a water resource manager to oversee water availability in the area.

“This is a full-time, 20-year job to pull this all together,” Thomas said.

This person could also work toward helping create a water authority and countywide groundwater protection conservation ordinances - which experts also recommend in addition to more education about conservation.

Others are calling for some sort of government oversight group.

“The main concern we have is that as a region there's not a central planning management authority or process to accommodate all the regional growth that's going to come over the years,” said Allen Wehrmann, director of the Center for Groundwater Science at the Illinois State Water Survey in Champaign.

Gary Clark, director of the Office of Water Resources, a branch of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, also thinks some regional planning organization is prudent.

“It's probably a wise thing to do if it could get funded,” Clark said. Water is a regional issue, and an organization needs to reflect that, he said.

Indeed, Illinois is giving $1 million a year for the next five years to the new Illinois Water Supply Initiative, which is an effort to create a framework for government officials in villages and counties to work together on solving the water shortage problems.

A group like that could help make decisions on what type of growth ought to be allowed in what areas, and what types of laws or zoning restrictions need to be passed to meet those goals.

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