Regional Conference Addressing Lake Michigan Water Supply, Illinois State Water Survey

Press Release

For Immediate Release February 15, 2005
Regional Conference Addressing Lake Michigan Water Supply

Doug Walker - (217) 333-1724,
Jeff Wickenkamp - (312) 454-0400, Tom Garritano - (312) 454-0400,
Eva Kingston - (217) 244-7270, Fax: (217) 333-6540,

Local and regional planners will convene today and Wednesday at Chicago's Holiday Inn-Merchandise Mart to exchange views about managing water supplies around Lake Michigan. “Straddling the Divide” ( is intended to foster dialogue between engineers, planners, scientists, politicians, and other stakeholders having a common interest in maintaining the availability of water for the region’s communities.

Organized by the Illinois State Water Survey ( and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (, the event will feature more than 20 invited talks, including a keynote address by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn.

Groundwater exists beneath the Earth's surface, often between saturated soil and rock. Surface water is above ground in streams, rivers, or lakes. Because depletion of groundwater could affect Lake Michigan itself, even communities with access to the lake have a vested interest in careful planning of how groundwater is used.

Judy Beck, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Manager for Lake Michigan says, “Population around Lake Michigan is expected to grow 20 percent by the year 2030, increasing pressure on finite water supplies. The lake itself relies on groundwater for 79 percent of its volume, which is the highest rate among the Great Lakes.”

“The EPA's 2004 management plan for Lake Michigan was a significant milestone, representing agreement on the issue's importance by four states, ten Indian tribes, and six federal agencies. ‘Straddling the Divide’ will address a critical need by convening stakeholders from all around the Lake Michigan basin to discuss the sustainable use of this globally significant resource,”continues Beck.

Census-based forecasts project that future growth in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana along Lake Michigan will follow patterns that present distinct challenges for planners in the three-state region. In southeastern Wisconsin, the trend is growth to the west of the built-up land ringing the lake. In northeastern Illinois, population is increasing most rapidly in the farthest suburbs of Chicago. And in northwestern Indiana, most growth is happening far south of the industrialized strip along the lake. Population and land development are increasing where Lake Michigan water is not available, which heightens the need for careful planning to sustain groundwater and meet future demand.

Sam Santell, NIPC Director of Planning, will describe these trends, contrasting growth patterns with the availability of known water supplies. “While our region faces urgent water supply issues, we have an opportunity to address them now rather than wait for a bigger crisis. This will require cooperation at the municipal, county, regional, and interstate levels,” said Santell.

Because the volume of water that the State of Illinois can divert from Lake Michigan is limited by a Supreme Court decree, that amount will remain fixed even as the demand for water increases. Communities that expand without Lake Michigan water allocations will put increasing pressure on other sources of water. On a regional basis, inland surface waters such as the Fox River are relatively meager sources of water that leave groundwater as the most likely supply source for large parts of the region.  

According to ISWS Chief Derek Winstanley, “The Illinois State Water Planning Task Force has placed northeastern Illinois at the top of the state's Priority Water Quantity Planning. Significant work is needed to better understand the groundwater resources that will have to be tapped to supply drinking water to much of the region.”

The Southern Lake Michigan Regional Water Supply Consortium ( addresses these issues collaboratively across southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana. The NIPC-led consortium includes agencies, communities, and interested parties that collaborate to identify the needs for regional water supply planning. In addition to maintaining a Web clearinghouse of information on Lake Michigan and water supply sources, the consortium facilitates regional water supply planning by providing a forum for planners, scientists, and water supply providers to exchange ideas and stay up-to-date on the latest news.

The Illinois State Water Survey, a division of the Office of Scientific Research and Analysis of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and affiliated with the University of Illinois, is the primary agency in Illinois concerned with water and atmospheric resources. The ISWS was founded in 1895 as a unit of the University of Illinois Department of Chemistry.

The General Assembly created NIPC in 1957 as the region’s comprehensive land-use planning agency. That legislation authorizes NIPC to conduct research for planning—including official forecasts of population, employment, and other socio-economic indicators—to advise units of local government on their plans and policies, and to provide general comprehensive plans and policies for use by local governments. That role was reaffirmed in 2000 by an Interagency Agreement with the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS), the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The agreement stipulates that NIPC's plans and data are the basis for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) that guides critical decisions and investments of federal transportation funding.

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