Infrastructure and Planning

Protecting clean water in Illinois is essential to community, economic and ecosystem health.

Illinois’ abundant water resources face a number of infrastructure planning challenges, including storm-water runoff, increasing residential, industrial and commercial use, and impacts from climate change.

GREAT LAKES

The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth

Infrastructure

infrastructure

Illinois's water resources face many infrastructure challenges

Nutrient Loss

nutrient pollution

Nitrogen & phosphorus pollution degrade our water

Drinking Water

drinking water

Lead in drinking water threatens many IL communities

Threats To Our Infrastructure

Illinois residents and businesses use a great deal of our water supply on a daily basis. Illinois industry, farms, businesses, and households use 21 billion gallons of water a day. Roughly 20 billion gallons a day are withdrawn from surface waters and another billion gallons per day are withdrawn from groundwater. Geographically, the overwhelming amount of water withdrawn is used in northern Illinois, where most of the population, business, and industry are located. Half of the water withdrawals in Illinois go towards thermoelectric power generation.
 
Urban storm-water runoff is one of the major sources of impairment to Illinois’ lakes and streams. Impervious surfaces (roads, rooftops) greatly increase the volume and velocity of storm-water runoff, which picks up pollutants that can degrade water quality if discharged untreated into lakes or streams.
 
Urban runoff pollutants include: sediment; oil, grease, and toxics from vehicles; pesticides and nutrients from lawns and gardens; viruses, bacteria, and nutrients from pet waste and septic systems; road salts; and heavy metals from roof shingles, motor vehicles, and other sources. In periods of rainfall or snow melt, the waste-water volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the system; in which case, the system is designed to overflow and discharge excess waste-water directly to nearby streams, rivers, lakes, or estuaries. Polluted runoff and combined sewer overflows can harm people recreating on affected waterways, kill aquatic life and contaminate important sources of drinking water.
Illinois residents and businesses use a great deal of our water supply on a daily basis. Illinois industry, farms, businesses, and households use 21 billion gallons of water a day. Roughly 20 billion gallons a day are withdrawn from surface waters and another billion gallons per day are withdrawn from groundwater. Geographically, the overwhelming amount of water withdrawn is used in northern Illinois, where most of the population, business, and industry are located. Half of the water withdrawals in Illinois go towards thermoelectric power generation.
 
The challenges facing the state’s water resources are further complicated by the impacts of climate change. As the climate continues to warm, precipitation patterns change and in recent decades, the number of extreme rainfall events has increased dramatically. These type of precipitation events lead to excessive runoff that transports pollution and contributes to localized flooding. Statewide, the annual number of precipitation events greater than 3 inches has increased by 83% over the last 50 years, and the amount of total precipitation during these events has increased by 100%. As the climate continues to warm, the number of days with rainfall greater than 1 inch is projected to increase up to 30% by mid-century.
 
While major floods on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers attract the national spotlight, floods are common in Chicago and its suburbs. Cook County has had 11 federally declared emergencies due to flooding since 1991. In those heavily urbanized areas, heavy rains overwhelm storm-water systems, causing localized flooding. Often, this flooding could be prevented with proper infrastructure planning and implementation.
 
The frequency of larger storms that cause this kind of flooding will increase, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Chicago can expect today’s “10-year storm” (4.47 inches of rain in 24 hours) to occur every five years by the end of the century and today’s “100-year storm” (7.58 inches of rain in 24 hours) will become the 50-year storm. It’s worth noting that Chicago has already experienced two 10-year storms in the last four years and three 100-year storms since 1980.
 
For the Chicago area, heavy rains of this magnitude also mean trouble for Lake Michigan and the millions of people who use its beaches and rely on it for drinking water. Heavy rains combined with low water levels on Lake Michigan causes the Chicago River to “re-reverse” itself and flow back into the lake (as it did on June 16, 2015), carrying millions of gallons of untreated sewage with it.
 
One solution to help Illinois address water quality and supply concerns, as well as help communities better manage the changes caused by climate change, is the use of green storm-water infrastructure, which uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments. Green infrastructure may refer to natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water, or to storm-water management systems that mimic nature by soaking up and storing water.

Current Infrastructure and Planning Laws

Existing clean water laws should be fully implemented, enforced and adequate public access to decision making processes should be provided. Several changes to Illinois laws, policy and regulations regarding water resources are required to increase the ability of affected citizens to enforce the law, to ensure that regulatory agencies have robust and aggressive inspection and enforcement programs and policies with meaningful consequences for illegal polluters, and to increase public access and availability of pollution and permitting data.
 
Illinois should engage in long term planning to protect water supply and quality that emphasizes water conservation.

Created by the Illinois River Restoration Act of 1997 to coordinate initiatives, projects, and funding to promote the ecological health of the Illinois River and its tributaries by addressing issues identified in the Integrated Management Plan for the Illinois River Watershed.

The Council is Chaired by the Lt. Governor and composed of a diverse group of citizens, not-for-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies.

Created by the Mississippi River Coordinating Council Act in 2010, the Council is modeled after the Illinois River Coordinating Council and is charged with coordinating policies and programs promoting the intertwined environmental and economic health of the Mississippi River and its tributaries within the State of Illinois.

Chaired by the Lt. Governor and is composed of a diverse group of citizens, not-for-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies.
The Middle Fork River is Illinois’ first State Scenic River, designated in 1986 by Governor Thompson. In 1989 U.S. Secretary of the Interior Lujan designated the Middle Fork as a National Scenic River. The Middle Fork is the first river in Illinois to be included in the National Wild Scenic Rivers System and is protected by state and federal law.

Provide permanent protection for a 17-mile segment of the river in Vermilion County, including conservation easements on both sides of the river. Most of the area along the river is forested, and there are also several prairie sites.
 
The Middle Fork River Valley supports a great diversity of plants and animals including 57 types of fish, 45 different mammals, and 190 kinds of birds. Of this diverse wildlife, there are 24 species officially identified as State threatened or endangered species. The Middle Fork River valley also includes unusual geologic formations, various historic sites, and over 8,400 acres of public parks.

In 2005, the Great Lakes Governors and the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec signed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. At the same time, the Governors endorsed the companion Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which became law in the United States in 2008. The Compact is legally binding among the eight Great Lakes states and the federal government, mandating the states to jointly determine how to manage the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

Since its inception, the state’s Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF has disbursed more than $3 billion in low interest loans to municipalities to help improve their water infrastructure. This financial assistance has been critical to helping communities construct and improve wastewater and drinking water treatment systems.
 
But financing from the SRF has not been available for communities to deal with the growing challenge of stormwater management, to implement innovative green infrastructure solutions, or increase their ability to deal with the increasing future risks of floods and droughts. Legislation passed in 2014 needs to be implemented by the Illinois EPA to allow SRF support to be available for these purposes.
Helps local governments and other organizations fund the implementation of green infrastructure best management practices. In 2013, the General Assembly passed two bills designed to give municipalities and counties more tools and authority to increase the use of green infrastructure in stormwater management. So far, the IGIG has awarded over $14 million for 35 projects, 15 of which are complete. The completed projects have: reduced nitrogen load by 960 lbs/yr; reduced phosphorus by 276 lbs/yr; reduced suspended solids by 62,113 lbs/yr; and reduced sediment load by 223 tons/yr.
 
Note: IGIG is in a state of change and at this time, no new applications are being accepted.

The Act establishes a working group with representatives from state, federal, local agencies, and other interested parties to review and evaluate the latest research, policies, and procedures regarding urban flooding. Urban flooding can happen anywhere, not just in floodplains. This Act helps Illinois communities better understand urban flooding and identify innovative stormwater solutions to protect homes and the environment.

In furtherance of safeguarding the health and well-being of the populace, this Act requires any community water supply system to designate an operator who will be directly responsible for that system’s water supply and distribution. It also requires operators to be properly certified with the skills necessary to operate the community water supply.

Join us

Get updates on our issues