Illinois Water Supply Planning


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Water availability has become an issue of regional, national, and global importance.In 2002, a New York Times article, referring to northeastern Illinois, reported that "Parts of six counties in a region that borders one of the world's largest freshwater sources, Lake Michigan, could be in for serious shortages within 20 years." The U.S. News and World Report ran a cover story entitled, "The Future of Water: Costly, Dirty, Scarce" in August 2002. A month later, an article in The Nation began "Water promises to be in the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations." The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission has predicted severe water shortages in northeastern Illinois by 2020 (

Although receiving, on average, almost 40 inches of precipitation, Illinois is vulnerable to periodic droughts with precipitation amounts 50 percent or more below normal. Existing water sources and distribution systems may not always be able to meet demands as populations increase.

Additional sources of water do exist and can be tapped. The costs of providing clean water rise with necessary water treatment, storage, and distribution, as well as minimization and mitigation of impacts of new withdrawals on existing water supplies, water uses, and the environment, however. Planning can avert future water shortages, increase efficiencies, minimize costs, and present a common-sense alternative to disaster management.

Effective management of water resources to achieve water-supply goals is dependent on effective planning. Like energy management, water management in Illinois is highly decentralized. Although an Energy Cabinet has been established and a State Energy Plan has been developed, there are no comprehensive statewide or regional plans for water supply, and no centralized or regional powers have adequate authority, responsibility, and resources for water planning and management. Whether status quo water management continues or a new scheme is introduced, enhanced planning is imperative. Unless water-quantity planning is comprehensive, regional, and visionary, water management will be ineffective, conflicts can be expected to escalate, and water shortages can be expected in some parts of the state soon and in many parts of the state in the future.

Historically, water-quantity planning and management in Illinois have lacked sustained political leadership, due process, coordination, delineation of clear and strong authorities and responsibilities, and adequate financial and human resources. Many efforts have been made to try to strengthen water-quantity management through legislation and regulation without sound plans and without an effective planning process. An alternative approach is to commit to an open, continuing, adaptive, and resource-intensive planning process that establishes a sound scientific basis for water-quantity management.

Although water planning is conducted primarily at local community and county levels, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission does some regional planning, and the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium has been formed in central Illinois. Regional management also occurs in southern Illinois around Rend Lake. Because aquifers and watersheds transcend political boundaries and are regional in nature, it is appropriate to conduct water-quantity planning on the scale of aquifers and watersheds, involving appropriate communities, political entities, and constituents. Moreover, because aquifers and watersheds overlap geographically, and groundwater and surface waters are interdependent, regional water-quantity planning and management must address these resources jointly.

Regional planning and management does not necessarily mean loss of local and county control. It does require more communication between local communities and counties to address shared regional problems and opportunities, commensurate with their shared aquifers and watersheds. Therefore, data and information need to be compiled and accessed to allow adequate planning and management by the consortia of local communities, counties, and constituents within these aquifers and watersheds. All projections and analyses need to include the uncertainties associated with all aspects of water-quantity planning so that managers can incorporate risk assessment into their decisions.

Illinois' existing water-quantity management regimen has evolved over time to address diverse societal and governmental interests and has resulted in a fragmented, decentralized system that "is inadequate to meet present and future needs" (Beck, 1996). Recognizing the increasing demand on Illinois' water resources, Governor Ryan established the Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC) to examine issues related to water management in Illinois in June 2000. Co-chaired by the Directors of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the WRAC also included 25 individuals representing a broad cross section of water users and water suppliers.

The five WRAC meetings between August 2000 and January 2001 included presentations from various IDNR and IEPA staff on a wide range of water issues, followed by discussions among WRAC members. A consensus-driven process was used to identify and resolve numerous water-quantity issues. The primary outcome of the WRAC was 12 "Consensus Principles" (see /wsp/faq/docs/ICCGSubcommitteeReport.pdf). An interagency drafting committee prepared legislative language consistent with these principles that established a comprehensive water-quantity planning and management program. The draft legislation was not well received by key constituent groups who reviewed it, however. None of the several redrafted versions received a critical mass of support. The Governor's Office then turned to the Groundwater Advisory Council (GAC), a citizen's advisory group to the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee on Groundwater (ICCG), for assistance in addressing concerns raised about details of the legislative proposals.

The GAC reviewed available documentation and discussed the possibility of submitting legislative proposals for the Spring 2002 legislative session. Rather than introducing a new statute establishing additional layers of government, the GAC proposed that the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act or IGPA simply be amended to expand ICCG responsibilities to include comprehensive water-quantity planning. The IGPA seemed to be a reasonable solution because of its existing administrative structure, existing authority over surface water/groundwater interaction issues in its oversight, and clearly delineated interagency responsibilities and assured public participation in the process through the GAC.

Based on the GAC study of the WRAC's work, it was clear that a sound scientific basis was essential to achieving a realistic, attainable management plan. The following approach was adopted by the GAC: "The Chair of the ICCG shall, as part of its agenda, establish the basis for a water quantity planning program for the State of Illinois that includes:

      A coordinated groundwater and surface water inventory program whose data is accessible and useable by all governmental agencies and the public to support [a] State Water Resources Quantity Program;

      A statewide groundwater and surface water resource assessment program on which to base the formation of Priority Water Quantity Planning Areas; and

      Identification and recommendation of the appropriate organizational structure for Priority Water Quantity Planning Areas" (

Taken stepwise (with parallel processing to coordinate supporting projects), these three activities would provide the basis for a statewide groundwater and surface water resources program.

The ICCG reviewed and concurred on the GAC’s proposed draft legislation. Representatives from the IEPA, GAC, and the Governor's Office then began meeting with various governmental and private interests to discuss this draft legislation. The primary concern expressed during these discussions was that the proposal would lead directly to introduced legislation that included a regulatory component without appropriate public participation. Clearly, introducing water-quantity legislation during the Spring 2002 legislative session would be unsuccessful without articulating a vision for future water-quantity planning and management, and developing a strategic plan to implement that vision.

General support for introducing legislation was not available, and Executive Order Number 5 was drafted using the framework developed by the GAC. Executive Order Number 5, signed by Governor Ryan on Earth Day 2002, established an ICCG Subcommittee to develop an integrated surface and groundwater assessment report analyzing the burdens on Illinois' finite water resources and quantifying those resources, and to formulate a prioritized agenda to plan for protection of ground and surface water resources. After reviewing those recommendations, the charge of the ICCG was to establish water-planning procedures for the State of Illinois.

Pursuant to Executive Order No. 5, an ICCG Subcommittee on Integrated Water Planning and Management, chaired by the IDNR Director, produced a report to the ICCG on December 20, 2002. The Subcommittee report provides assessments in four areas: 1) the state of Illinois' water resources as they are currently known and information gaps that need to be filled; 2) critical water-related conflicts that are emerging; 3) several water management tools and technologies currently and potentially available; and 4) the existing and needed administrative framework to protect Illinois' water resources into the future. The ICCG approved the report and transmitted it to Governor Ryan on January 8, 2003.



Beck, R.E. et al.. 1996. Assessment of Illinois Water Quantity Law. Planning and Management Consultants, Ltd., Carbondale, 151 pp.

Further Reading

A Plan for the Scientific Assessment of Water Supplies in Illinois

Approaches to Water Planning (

California Department of Water Resources, Statewide Planning (

Colorado Water Conservation Board (

Jaffe, M. 2001. Water Supply Management Options for Northeastern Illinois, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program (

Georgia Comprehensive Water Planning Agency (

Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center (

Guam Water Planning (

Integrated Water Planning and Management in the Mediterranean (

Kansas Water Office (

Manitoba Water Planning and Development (

Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (

Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly, Water Planning (

Minnesota Water Planning (

New Mexico Water Planning (

Nevada State Water Plan (

New South Wales, Integrated Water Planning (

Ohio Division of Water Planning (

Queensland Water Resources Planning (

South Dakota Water Planning Process (

Texas Water Development Board, Regional Water Planning (

Texas Water Matters (

Utah State Water Planning (

Water Planning and Management under Climate Change (

Water Planning Database (

Water Planning in China (

Water Planning Section, State of Nevada (

Water Resources Planning (

Wyoming State Water Plan (


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