Our View: Tomorrow’s water challenges can be seen today

Water is our sustenance. It quenches our thirst, brings us nourishment and maintains our life. We use water to cook and wash, and it makes our lawns, gardens, trees and flowers grow and flourish.

We also take water for granted. When we turn on the faucet, we expect water to be there, and in the temperature we require, either hot or cold.

But the findings of a study released this month should give people in northern Illinois reason for concern.

The report warns municipalities should consider determining alternative water sources before aquifers become unusable in the not too distant future. Two communities – Joliet and Oswego – are already doing that because of depleted wells and aquifers.

“Midwestern cities, suburbs, and rural areas are projected to be more exposed to negative impacts of climate change,” according to the Water Resources Action Plan created for McHenry County.

The report includes information about how the climate in northeast Illinois has changed since 1900. We are experiencing more violent storms, and temperatures over the last 120 years have gotten warmer. This is threatening our water supply. Increased land development also is impacting our water systems.

“It is not just the amount of precipitation that has increased: the intensity of the storms is increasing as well,” the report states. " ... The increasing volume and intensity of precipitation events can overwhelm the soil’s ability to absorb water and the existing infrastructure, which was designed at a time when precipitation rates were lower.”

Some communities will need to make infrastructure changes to address the issue of higher intensity rainfalls to prevent flash flooding. Droughts also are becoming more prevalent.

That pretty much sums up our 2021 summer: a season-long drought mixed with vicious storms accompanied by flash floods.

The rising temperatures also factor into how much water is available. With temperatures rising, evaporation rates also increase, causing sources of water to dry up faster.

Communities throughout northern Illinois are dependent on groundwater, specifically sandstone and bedrock aquifers. The report issued a warning that water from these sources may no longer be an option in 30 years:

“Based on the amount of water currently being pumped from the deep sandstone aquifers, all of southeast McHenry County is at risk of declining well performance; and some communities face severe risks of well inoperability as early as 2050.”

That’s an alarming thought for homeowners who have wells, and drought conditions have caused water levels in many communities wells to reach concerning levels, some of the lowest levels in years.

Communities throughout northern Illinois need to start considering alternative water sources now to avoid expensive projects in the future and meet future demands, which, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, could be as much as 30% higher than our current needs.

We face a major water supply issues in the future. Let’s start thinking about how to address that challenge now.