URBANA – A bill to create a permanent advisory council to study the Mahomet Aquifer is moving through the Illinois General Assembly. The bill (SB2515) passed the Illinois Senate on a vote of 56-0 last week and now goes to the Illinois House. (UPDATE: The bill is scheduled for a hearing on May 4 before the House Energy and Environment Committee).
The Mahomet Aquifer runs underground through central Illinois, as a layer of water-bearing gravel and sand, from the Indiana border to the Illinois River. It is part of the larger Mahomet-Teays Aquifer System, which also runs underneath large parts of Indiana. The Mahomet Aquifer provides drinking water for more than a half-million people, a majority of the region’s population.
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Mahomet Aquifer as a sole source aquifer, because so much of the region has no other alternative for drinking water and because contamination of the aquifer would pose a significant public health hazard. Under the designation, projects receiving federal funding that could endanger the Mahomet Aquifer are subject to EPA review.
According to the legislation, the proposed Mahomet Aquifer Council would “review, evaluate and make recommendations” on state laws, regulations and procedures related to the aquifer, as well as contamination threats to its water quality and actions to ensure its long-term protection.
State Senator Chapin Rose of Mahomet (R-51) sponsored the bill in his chamber. He says an advisory council could lead efforts to learn more about the underground water source, like the locations of former landfill sites over it that might pose a threat to water quality.
“All these small towns have got former landfills that were in use before modern-era design standards came about,” said Rose. “And nobody really knows what’s in those landfills.”
The idea to form a Mahomet Aquifer Council came from a previous state task force, which issued a report in 2018. But unlike the task force, the new Mahomet Aquifer Council would be a permanent advisory body. Its members would include officials from state and local governments, manufacturing, farming and environmental groups, and members appointed by the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium, a non-profit organization of local stakeholders formed in 1998 to study the aquifer.
State Representative Dan Caulkins of Decatur (R-101) is sponsoring the bill in the Illinois House. (UPDATE: As of April 30, Rep Carol Ammons (D-103-Urbana) was listed as the bill’s House sponsor). He says the Mahomet Aquifer Council could also lead efforts to produce a complete and detailed map of the aquifer, showing exactly where it lies underground and where water goes in and out of it. He says up to now, the mapping of the Mahomet Aquifer has “kind of been hit-and-miss”.
“By the establishment of this permanent aquifer council, we will have a standing organization that will be tasked with protecting our aquifer,” said Caulkins, who says he expects the bill to be formally introduced in the Illinois House this week.
Jim is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow him on Twitter @WILLJimMeadows