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Will County Board weighs in on future of water sources

As growth and climate change increase the demand for water, communities in Will County are in search of alternative sources.

At a recent meeting of the Will County Board, officials were presented with information to help inform decision-making.

Over the years, the level at which water supplies in the region will be deemed useable moving forward has fallen.

The deep sandstone aquifer of northeastern Illinois is anticipated to reach the end of its useful life in the next 5-15 years.

“About 90 million gallons per day of water is being withdrawn from the sandstone aquifer,” said Walt Kelly, head of the groundwater science section for the Illinois Water Survey. “Our current estimates are that this is twice the amount that is sustainable.”

Research conducted by the Illinois Water Survey shows that concerns for the future of water sources is a regional problem.

Kelly said it would help the region if the city of Joliet removed itself from the aquifer.

Joliet is one of the largest communities to rely on this source.

Will County Board Member Lauren Staley-Ferry wanted to know more about how the city’s action could impact the rest of the area.

“Unfortunately, that water is really old,” Kelly said. “It’s not being recharged very quickly, so it increases the amount of time that the industries and other communities would have on that aquifer, but it does not solve the problem. The whole region is really going to have to deal with the problem, not just the city of Joliet.”

Kelly said the Illinois Water Survey has been working with leaders of communities in the area to notify them of the concerns for the future of water sources.

“Even just putting one more well in there is going to have a severe impact on surrounding communities, and most of the wells that are a little further outside have the same far-reaching impact,” he said.

Joliet is not alone in its effort to look into alternative water sources. Nearby communities of Shorewood and New Lenox are looking to tap into or already have access to Lake Michigan water, respectively.

At a recent meeting of the Joliet City Council, officials were expected to consider a proposal to hire a firm to complete phase one of an alternative water source study. They tabled the matter at the time to give staff time to narrow down the list of potential options. The city has 14 possibilities for alternative water sources to examine.

Joliet intends to use bonds to acquire access to an alternative water source.

The Illinois Survey has been receiving data on water levels from groundwater communities to help them evaluate the situation.

“It’s imperative that all the major stakeholders are part of these discussions, so that we understand what needs to go on and continue to study the groundwater system, so that we are able to efficiently and effectively use it as it’s being phased out and also as a possible back-up supply,” Kelly said.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said later that he thinks a lot of the other smaller communities are waiting to see how Joliet proceeds.

“We are the big dog in the area, and we have the ability to do things that other cities can’t do,” he said. “I do think ultimately, as these studies come out, I think it’s going to be one of the recommendations that what we build, here, in Joliet is something that we can sell water to our neighbors, much like the Lake Michigan water is sold by the city of Chicago to Oak Lawn, Harvey, and a number of different suburbs.”

O’Dekirk admitted that Joliet has given thought to thinking big and said it’s “something that’s going to be a reality.”

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