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Local News

Decline in aquifer drives Shorewood push for home rule

This map, courtesy of the Illinois State Water Survey, shows water level changes in Illinois from 1980 to 2014 in the Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone aquifers. The largest water level decrease has been observed just north of Shorewood, researchers say.
This map, courtesy of the Illinois State Water Survey, shows water level changes in Illinois from 1980 to 2014 in the Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone aquifers. The largest water level decrease has been observed just north of Shorewood, researchers say.

SHOREWOOD – Village officials knew for the past 15 years that the reservoir of water sitting beneath Shorewood was shrinking.

But a 2014 report by the Illinois State Water Survey – still in development for official release – shows that depletion rate is much faster than previously anticipated.

News of the findings hit Mayor Rick Chapman’s desk about five months ago. He gathered village officials in a private meeting to hear the news straight from scientists with the Illinois State Water Survey, or ISWS.

The end result of that meeting was village staff drafting a resolution to put a referendum on Tuesday’s Shorewood ballot to give the village home rule status.

If passed, home rule would allow the village to replace a 1 percent nonhome rule sales tax with a 1.75 percent home rule sales tax that would help pay for construction needed for another water source – Lake Michigan.

“Their report made me nervous,” Chapman said. “They started talking about the Joliet Cone of Depression. The first chart I saw made my tongue go dry because we’re sitting right underneath it.”

Chapman was talking about a deep purple spot in a graphic that measures water loss in the Illinois’ aquifers.

That water loss, close to 250 feet deep, is the largest water loss anywhere in the state, said Daniel Abrams, a groundwater flow modeler for the Illinois State Water Survey.

AQUIFER DEPLETION

“There is a danger of the aquifer potentially going dry,” Abrams said, if Shorewood and the communities around it continue to pump water at projected rates.

Abrams, one of the two ISWS representatives who met with Shorewood officials, said several factors may cause the Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone aquifers in the Shorewood-Joliet area to continue dropping at alarming rates.

Data from the 2014 ISWS reports shows a head drop in Will, Grundy and Kendall counties centers in on the Shorewood area, with a 250-foot drop in the aquifer’s depth in the last 35 years.

But Abrams said a drop of 100 feet occurred in the last seven years.

“The majority of groundwater is being used for public supply wells being taken 100 feet below the surface,” Abrams said. “It’s going to take many years, decades or even longer in this case, for the aquifer to be replenished.”

A low permeable material underlying the aquifer prevents it from retaining more water. That limited recharge is causing drops in depth in the Shorewood area and surrounding communities.

Another factor is the large demand for groundwater. Combined with the addition of many new wells pumping even more water out, the increase in water use by many communities has created a sink underneath the northern part of Shorewood, Abrams said.

Shorewood also is just north of the Sandwich fault zone, which for an unknown reason inhibits the flow of aquifer water from the south, Abrams said.

“At the end of the day, water levels are changing much more rapidly than the rest of the state,” he said.

SHOREWOOD’S FUTURE

Chapman has been giving his state of the village speech, which centered on the future water shortage issue, to several community groups in Shorewood during the past several weeks to highlight the village’s option to switch to Lake Michigan water.

The presentation shows the village looked at several other water sources, but Lake Michigan seemed the most viable. The village received an allocation for Lake Michigan water in 2006. And that allocation has been renewed every year since then.

But Chapman said there is a possibility the allocation may be revoked if residents turn down the referendum.

If all goes well, Chapman said the village will try to work with Plainfield to extend a pipeline down Route 59, and would work to extend an existing pipeline from Bolingbrook that runs along Interstate 55.

While home rule remains a tough sell for many municipalities that have tried, Chapman is optimistic.

“The goal is to raise the sales tax, and that makes a very low impact for residents,” Chapman said.

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