Illinois Water Supply Planning



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What are the Legal Issues?
 
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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.

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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 These Water Authorities manage the quantity of water withdrawn from the aquifer.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).

Chicago, Illinois courthouse
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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Water Authorities Act This map displays the areas of Illinois that have established Water Authorities. These include the Imperial Valley, Menard County, Mackinaw Valley, Danvers Twp., Hudson Twp., Allin Twp., Mount Hope - Funks Grove, Mahomet Aquifer, Mahomet Valley, Blount Twp., South Ross Twp., Sugar Grove Twp., Effingham, and Russell-Allison, Southeastern McLean Co., Northern Logan Co., and Shawnee/Gallatin Co. Water Authorities. The Water Authorities Act provides water authorities broad powers to manage the water resources within their jurisdiction.
 

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