| What are the Legal Issues?
Common water law in Illinois is rooted in riparian rights. When water supplies are abundant,
and there is little competition between users, allocating water according to the principles of
“reasonable use” has worked well in Illinois. However, when water shortages and disputes arise,
often as a result of growing competition in a region or severe droughts, the courts usually decide
what constitutes reasonable and beneficial allocation of scarce water resources. Some think
laws should move towards private ownership of water rights, as in western
states, and allow for a market-trading system to allocate resources efficiently. Such a radical
change in water law is unlikely in Illinois, however.
Other weaknesses identified in current Illinois water laws relate to drought emergency powers, the protection of minimum
in-stream flows, and the protection of yields from surface waters and aquifers.
Various advisory bodies have recommended strengthening the state’s laws to improve drought management and protect minimum
in-stream flows, as well as to protect groundwater resources. Clearly, better scientific data coupled with improved water
resources planning is needed before many management regulations are put in place.
Can improved management come without laws and tighter regulations? For many decades
a strong constituency has called for the protection of reasonable
use principles without undue government regulation. The Water Authorities Act of 1951 as amended already provides a mechanism for
local entities to protect water supplies, to allocate supplies to meet
diverse demands, and to handle increasing competition. A number of
regional water authorities have been created in east-central Illinois as a result of concerns over
municipal well-field expansion in the Mahomet aquifer. These Water Authorities manage the quantity of water withdrawn from the aquifer.
(See More Information).
Federal laws and Supreme Court decisions also affect Illinois’ water supplies. After 30
years of controversy over Illinois’ diversion of water out of Lake Michigan and down the Illinois River, in 1930 the Supreme Court set a limit
on the amount of water Illinois could divert out of Lake Michigan.
After another major controversy involving Illinois and
other states around the Great Lakes and Canada, the Court reset the diversion limit to 3200 cfs (the 1967 Level of Lake Michigan Act).
The Water Pollution Control Act of 1965 launched national requirements for water quality to
make our surface waters "fishable and swimmable." Numerous environmental concerns during
the last 40 years have brought many new laws and frequent changes in federal
regulations to protect our environment and, especially, our water (e.g., SDWA, RCRA,
CERCLA, see links under federal laws below). As a result, Illinois has a comprehensive set of criteria
for protecting and maintaining the quality of our water for potable water supplies, for aquatic life, and for recreation.
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This map displays the areas of Illinois that have established Water Authorities. The
Water Authorities Act involves regional water authorities, broad powers, and regulation. Areas affected include The Imperial Valley, Menard County, Machinaw Valley, Danvers
Twp., Hudson Twp., Allin Tsp., Mount Hope, Mahomet Aquifer/Valley, Blount Twp., South Ross Twp., Sugar Grove Twp., Lake Sarah, and Lawrence Co. area.
The map displays these affected regions as shaded areas on a map of Illinois.