Mahomet Aquifer Task Force concludes its work, issues recommendations

The Mahomet Aquifer Task Force released its final report to the Illinois General Assembly and Governor this week, outlining a plan to address the ongoing issue of maintaining clean drinking water from the Mahomet Aquifer. 

The report identifies potential and current contamination threats to the water quality, suggests what actions should be taken to protect the aquifer in the long-term, and lists legislative recommendations to add further protections. 

“This report is a critical piece to help ensure the Mahomet Aquifer and the drinking water it provides to hundreds of thousands of people is protected now and for future generations,” State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet said). “I want to thank the members of the Task Force for participating in numerous meetings and compiling this and making recommendations for concrete ideas to protect our water supply for the future.” 

Some of the highlights from the report include recommending the Legislature provide $19.8 million to the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) to use helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics (HTEM technology) to more accurately map and characterize the Mahomet Aquifer to aid in identifying the connections with other aquifers and surface waters. 

“That’ll give us a much clearer view of what’s underground, providing detailed data of what’s in and around the Mahomet Aquifer,” Rose said. “For example, if any old landfills above the Aquifer have failed and run the risk of contaminating the water. Also, the laser study can potentially help us find where the natural gas bubble is from the Peoples Gas natural gas leak. The data from this technology will help us deal with all sorts of issues and identity other potential threats to the Aquifer.” 

The Task Force also recommends that a public body be established to manage the Aquifer long-term. This body would be responsible for responding to future issues, among other duties, and the report made a number of suggestions for future study for such a body. 

“We’ve seen year after year, issues arise that risk the healthy future of the Aquifer,” Rose said. “Be it potential contaminants from the Clinton landfill or the natural gas leak from Peoples Gas, we need a group of local and knowledgeable people dedicated to protecting the Aquifer.” 

Other recommendations include: 

Establish a trust fund to cover the cost of remediation in the event of a significant environmental incident so immediate remediation can begin;
Require companies storing natural gas underground to consult with third-party environmental experts in the event of a significant environmental incident to certify corrective plans and conduct oversight of the cleanup;
Train inspectors to use the detailed terrain model templates and instruct staff on how to annotate these images with defects such as depressions, erosion, landslides, barren areas, leachate seeps, trees, and vegetation anomalies;
Implement the recommendations listed and provide additional funding ($1 million for one-time equipment purchase and additional $2.3 million annually) to PRI to deploy state-of-the-art monitoring networks and create the analytical capability to identify emerging contaminants of concern.

“We feel there are a lot of good ideas we brought forward,” said Jim Risley, a Task Force member from Mahomet. “We haven’t filled in all the gaps, but we have filled in a lot of them. I don’t think anyone is naive enough to say we’d get it all taken care of through this Task Force. So, there are other things in the future that will have to happen. But, I think we did a good job addressing many of those issues.” 

“I feel very privileged to be included in the Task Force,” said Monticello Mayor Larry Stoner. “It has been an eye-opening experience. I have really enjoyed the time. I am hoping all the hard work pays off and our drinking water supply is taken care in the future.” 

“I think we have put together some significant issues that need to be addressed and some strong recommendations we can push onto Sen. Rose and the other legislators,” said Teresa Barnett, the DeWitt County EMA Director. “I would like to see that our work is not in vain and we can hopefully follow it as it goes through the legislative process and they become laws and regulations that will protect the Aquifer.” 

“The best part of being a part of this process is seeing divergent interest groups come together over the protection of the Aquifer,” said Champaign Mayor Deb Frank-Feinen. “The most important thing that can come out of this is the mapping of the Aquifer. I think we need that baseline data before we can take further actions. We need to know what is going on currently in order to plan for the future.” 

“Ultimately, we are here to protect the Aquifer long-term,” said Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. “This process was a little more involved than most of us lay people realized it would be, but it has been a fantastic experience working with people with the state, other mayors, and other people who are concerned. It has been a great experience of citizens coming together to do something for the future.” 

“I think this process brought to light what the actual circumstances were, both from a science stand point and political stand point,” said Heyworth Todd Zalucha. “Bringing that public awareness out was key so we can understand what the facts are so we understand what we need to move forward on to protect the Aquifer.”   

Rose joined fellow State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) in the effort to establish the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, passing legislation that was signed into law Aug. 25, 2017. This year, Rose also led the way in passing a law that requires gas storage field owners to notify local communities if natural gas leaks threaten to expose residents and businesses to contaminated water, and mandates annual storage field inspections by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Just last month, Rose sponsored legislation that passed the General Assembly that gives, for the first time, full jurisdictional authority to the IDNR to regulate natural gas pipelines and storage facilities above the Mahomet Aquifer, and more importantly, enforce actions and complaints against the operators who fail to protect water supplies. 

The Mahomet Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for 500,000 Central Illinois residents, providing 53 million gallons of water per year to 120 public water systems and helping supply water for rural wells.  

“While I do not agree with everything in our final document report, I believe it is an overall solid list of recommendations that will help protect the Aquifer for a long time,” Rose concluded.

Members of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force meet in Springfield on Dec. 17. From left to right: Jim Risley, Mahomet-Seymour CUSD#3; Todd Zalucha, Mayor of Heyworth; Claudia Lennhoff, Champaign County Healthcare Consumers; Diane Marlin, Mayor of Urbana; Deborah Frank-Feinen, Mayor of Champaign (MAPTF Chair); Chapin Rose, State Senator; Julie Moore-Wolfe, Mayor of Decatur; Larry Stoner, Mayor of Monticello (Subcommittee B Chair); Teresa Barnett, DeWitt County Emergency Management Agency; Charles Hostetler, PDC Technical Services (Subcommittee A Chair); George Roadcap, Prairie Research Institute (Illinois State Water Survey).

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