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Thursday, July 19, 2012 03:25 pm

Water, water everywhere

Springfield not sure if it will drink

The math looks good.

The city of Springfield figures it needs 12 million gallons of water per day from a backup water source in case of severe drought. A gravel pit near Riverton already owned by the city would produce 3 million gallons, according to a city-funded study released last month. Other pits in the area would produce another 15 million gallons of water each day, the experts say.

All told, that’s 6 million gallons per day more than the city’s target. So what’s the problem?

“I don’t think that, as we look at the gravel pits, that’s going to be the answer because of its effect on the wells in the area,” says Mayor Mike Houston, long a proponent of damming a tributary of the Sangamon River to create Hunter Lake, a would-be 3,000-acre reservoir first envisioned when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

Wells used by Chatham, Riverton, New Berlin, Mechanicsburg and Dawson would be drawn down if Springfield takes water from gravel pits, according to the study by Layne Christensen, an Indiana firm, released June 29. How much the aquifer would recede depends on how much water the city takes. But the 18 million gallons of water available each day from the pits is more than double previous estimates.

Layne Christensen, which was paid more than $250,000, based its numbers on pumping water and measuring the effect on the aquifer and the water level in the city-owned gravel pit that contains millions of gallons. In 2008, the engineering firm of Crawford, Murphy and Tilly, using estimates about the aquifer provided by the Illinois Water Survey as opposed to actual test results, projected the pits could produce less than 7.5 million gallons per day.

Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, who has long said that the pits have sufficient water to supply the city in the event of a drought, said the study shows that Hunter Lake isn’t needed.

“Now we’ve done the pump test, and the pump test told us there’s enough water out there,” Edwards said. “It’s up to everyone to put their emotions behind them, and let’s make a decision here.”

Not so fast, says Houston, who called the study “very technical.”

“What we’re going to have to do is take it and analyze it and develop our plan,” Houston said. “The real question is what impact it has on others who are using this (aquifer) as a source of water.”

Don Hanrahan, a local attorney who has long opposed Hunter Lake, says the mayor is all wet.

Hanrahan said that the city’s own numbers show that no more than 9 million gallons per day would be needed in a worst-case scenario drought, and taking that much water from the pits wouldn’t leave Chatham or any other community without water.

“The study indicates to me, pretty clearly, that Hunter Lake is totally unnecessary and a total waste of money,” Hanrahan said. “Certainly, we have to talk to these other communities and let them know what we’re thinking of doing. However, the study itself seems to indicate there’s plenty of water out there for everybody so long as we don’t hog it all.”

Until partnering with New Berlin to open a new water plant last spring, Chatham had purchased water from City Water, Light and Power, which sold the village slightly more than 1 million gallons per day during the most recent fiscal year, according to CWLP spokeswoman Amber Sabin. All told, communities with wells near the gravel pits use less than 2 million gallons per day.

Del McCord, Chatham village manager, said he hasn’t given the water-supply study a thorough review, but he didn’t disagree with the premise that there is enough water for everyone, provided communities can decide how to divvy it up.

“It would appear that way to me,” McCord said.

One possibility would be pumping water in shifts so that Springfield pumps water at night while use is low and Chatham and other communities take water during the day, McCord said. Ultimately, Springfield would have to demonstrate to the state Office of Water Resources, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, that taking water from the pits wouldn’t adversely affect other communities, McCord said.

“This is, frankly, none of my damn business,” McCord said. “Quite frankly, we’re just bystanders in this unless we’re ill-affected.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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