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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 03:48 pm

How much water does Springfield need?

Hunter Lake opponents say water conservation should be considered. CWLP says it already has been.

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The confluence of Horse Creek and Brush Creek, which would be dammed to build the proposed Hunter Lake.
PHOTO BY BRUCE SEMANS

The proposal to build Hunter Lake has been around for so long that its opponents have come up with plenty of reasons why Springfield can live without it. At a recent hearing held by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, they blasted the proposed 3,010-acre reservoir — conceived in 1965 as a way to buttress Lake Springfield during severe drought — for its threat to water quality, historic preservation and land, flora, and fauna conservation.

They requested answers to a variety of questions, such as how will City Water, Light and Power prevent shoreline erosion? How will Hunter Lake meet standards for phosphorous and other pollutants? What impact will it have on the sewage treatment system that serves the surrounding communities of Pawnee, Virden and Divernon?

Even though most of these issues probably won’t be addressed for a couple of months, when the IEPA either issues or denies water quality certification for Hunter Lake, there’s one question residents can mull over in the meantime: how much water does Springfield really need?

Tom Skelly, the water division manager for City Water, Light and Power, sums it up with simple mathematics.

“It’s a demand and yield analysis,” Skelly says. “The demand being, what are the needs for drinking water in the community? And then you literally subtract the yield of your resources.

“Lake Springfield is the resource, and we can supplement it from the south fork of the Sangamon River by pumping some of that water into Lake Springfield.”

Using this method, the latest CWLP data from 2007 registers Springfield’s demand at 38.7 million gallons of water per day and its yield at 29.6 mgd, showing a 9.1 mgd deficit in the city’s current water supply.

CWLP estimates both the demand and the yield based on the premise that by the year 2025, Springfield will suffer from another drought similar to the severe drought in the 1950s that lasted 18 months. The utility incorporates in its calculations dry weather conditions and reduced inflow from the Sangamon River and other smaller creeks, as well as increased evaporation from Lake Springfield and increased demands of water users.

“That is what we are calling the ‘drought of record’ — meaning we have seen it, it can really happen,” Skelly says. “We also know that more severe droughts can and do occur.”

Based on probabilities provided by the Illinois State Water Survey, Skelly says, there’s a reasonable risk that the next severe drought will occur within 100 years of the previous one. Although, he adds, Springfield should also be prepared for back-to-back severe droughts, as well as less severe droughts — such as periods from the 1970s through the 1990s when Lake Springfield dropped six feet below full pool.

The estimated 9.1 mgd deficit has changed since 1989, when CWLP first applied for reservoir permits from the IEPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In the project’s 2000 final environmental impact statement, the figure was listed as 15.3 mgd. Since then, Skelly says, CWLP has reduced several of its demand estimates, such as that from the industrial community, as local plants begin to recycle more water. The utility has also eliminated the 1.5 mgd demand for Chatham, soon to construct its own water treatment plant, and the 2.2 mgd demand for the Lakeside plant, to shut down in 2010.

Skelly says that conservation efforts have also played a role in the reduction. CWLP has become more efficient at pumping water from the Sangamon River into Lake Springfield and at sluicing the water from the power plants’ ash ponds. Additionally, he says, they’ve included a 1.1 mgd credit in case CWLP converts Dallman 31, 32 and 33 units to dry ash handling — a method of removing ash and coal particles from the inside of power plant “smokestacks” without using water.

The proposed Hunter Lake would cover some 3,000 acres between Springfield and Pawnee.

Hunter Lake opponents argue that these measures don’t go far enough.

Many of them, including Clark Bullard, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois in Urbana; Don Hanrahan, a member of Citizens for Sensible Water Use in Springfield; and Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist at Prairie Rivers Network in Champaign, have called for more conservation at CWLP. If practices like dry ash handling, dredging, or conservation pricing were implemented, they argue, the city’s 9.1 mgd deficit could be significantly lowered.

Bullard refers to a February 2005 study by Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company that details four options for water conservation in the operation of the power plants. These include the conversion of the Dallman units to dry ash handling and the use of gray water, or sanitary wastewater treatment effluent, instead of lake water in the cooling tower and other power plant equipment (see chart page 11).

According to Burns & McDonnell, these measures wouldn’t be economically feasible for CWLP “unless the demand for lake water becomes such that the city will have to expend significant capital on another source of fresh water.”

Since Hunter Lake comes with an $85-million-plus price tag, Bullard says, the city should first consider one or more of the Burns & McDonnell options — which would cost between $10 and $21 million each. Plus, he adds, these recommendations would, in addition to conserving water, reduce boron pollution now entering groundwater and Sugar Creek from the power plant’s ash ponds.

“You have a project that’s going to do two things,” Bullard says. “You won’t do it just to reduce boron, and you won’t do it to save water because it’s too expensive, but what if you did it for both?

“And it could reduce the need that CWLP is estimating.”

Skelly isn’t convinced that dry ash handling is the answer.

Even though CWLP incorporated a credit for dry ash handling in its 9.1 mgd deficit figure and will implement the method in the new Dallman 4 unit, Skelly says converting the existing units would be expensive and difficult. According to the Burns & McDonnell study, the conversion would cost around $19.5 million.

“To change the configuration, where that is not sluiced by water — that’s difficult,” Skelly says. “You have a power plant that was designed to function in a certain manner, and to completely redesign that in the space you have out there is not all that feasible.”

Hunter Lake opponents have also proposed dredging the existing lake as a means of decreasing CWLP’s 9.1 mgd deficit. According to the utility’s figures, the last Lake Springfield dredging project from 1987 through 1991 dredged nearly 3.2 million cubic yards of sediment, which cost $7.8 million and saved roughly 1.0 mgd. However, Hanrahan argues, CWLP doesn’t include the measure in its estimated 2025 yield for Lake Springfield or in its proposal for Hunter Lake.

“Why not add in the extra capacity this necessary action will provide and reduce the proposed ‘need’?” he says.

CWLP did consider dredging 12 mgd out of Lake Springfield as an alternative to Hunter Lake, but came up against a feasibility issue.

“That dredging cost was $394 to $498 million,” Skelly says, “which is why it never made the list of viable alternatives, and why we have been saying we can’t economically dredge for the quantity of water needed.”

CWLP didn’t include dredging in plans and cost estimates for Hunter Lake, he adds, because it won’t be required for more than 50 years after the construction of the reservoir. None of the Hunter Lake alternatives include maintenance costs — such as for new wells or pump replacements — outside of the “50-year window,” he explains.

Hanrahan also laments CWLP’s prediction that its service territory will include more townships by the year 2025. The project’s environmental impact statement states that in addition to the city of Springfield and its surrounding communities such as Leland Grove and Jerome, CWLP will also provide water to townships like Cotton Hill and Salisbury. According to CWLP’s figures, this increases the estimated water demand by 2.0 mgd, from 36.7 mgd to 38.7 mgd.

CWLP includes this increased service territory in its figures, Skelly contends, to allow for growth of the city by 2025. The utility has already received inquiries concerning water service from cities like New Berlin, Athens, Dawson, Mechanicsburg and Round Prairie.

“It’s kind of ridiculous to think that the system won’t be growing to any extent,” Skelly says. “Many years from now, that’s a very real possibility.”

Hunter Lake opponents push conservation pricing as another water-saving alternative. Barkley explains that there are two possibilities here: changing the rate structure so that heftier users pay more per unit for their water or changing the price by season so that water costs more during summer weather.

“The idea of conservation pricing is letting consumers know they have choice in what they’re paying,” Barkley says. “Most don’t want to pay, so they’ll be more conservative and reduce water.”

Bullard says seasonal conservation pricing could help manage demand, since most people use twice as much water during hot, summer days as they do during winter days. As water bills escalate, he continues, residents might be deterred from watering their lawns and washing their cars during drought conditions.

“If you have to pay for additional supply, no matter where it’s coming from, the people who are using that water at the peak time, in the middle of the drought, should be paying for it,” Bullard says. “If they weren’t using it, you wouldn’t need the new supply.”

Skelly refutes seasonal conservation pricing, arguing that residents don’t use nearly as much water in the summer as Hunter Lake opponents claim. According to 1992 statistics from Planning and Management Consultants Limited, seasonal/outdoor water use from May to October comprises 11 percent of Springfield’s total annual residential water use. This isn’t just lawn watering, Skelly continues — it also comes from residents taking more showers, water-cooled air conditioning using more water, and construction projects starting in the summertime.

“Focusing on [seasonal] water use may have some merit, but you’re talking a small increment of possible change,” he says. “Every little increment may help if you get enough of it to add up, but my sense is there aren’t enough of those increments to add up to what we really need.”

Since indoor water use makes up the majority of Springfield’s water demand, Skelly says, CWLP established changes in the city’s plumbing code and offered residents voluntary home plumbing retrofits to help conservation efforts. These are expected to save nearly 1.92 mgd and are included in the 2025 demand.

Both sides of the Hunter Lake issue await the IEPA’s decision.

The proposed Hunter Lake would cover some 3,000 acres between Springfield and Pawnee.

If water quality certification is granted, CWLP must then apply for a dam construction permit with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. If the water quality certification for Hunter Lake is denied, Skelly says, the city will backtrack to its list of alternatives. Even though they’ve never been ranked in order of preference, he says, the gravel-pit-and-wells system seems to be the next favored option.

The city already researched the purchase of one gravel pit, located at the former site of Clear Lake Sand and Gravel near Riverton, at an estimated cost of $875,000. The utilities committee discussed the issue further at its Dec. 29 meeting and passed it on for full council consideration on Jan. 6.

The utilities committee also held up an ordinance that would abandon the construction of Hunter Lake. Skelly says aldermen can vote in favor of that ordinance at any time. If this happens, he continues, CWLP would tell the IEPA to halt their application.

“They do look at the city’s preferred alternative,” Skelly says, “and if it’s something else, they’re not going to continue the permitting process for Hunter Lake.”

To weigh in on Hunter Lake, postmark or e-mail comments to the IEPA by midnight, Jan. 5. Send to hearing officer Kurt Neibergall, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency #5, 1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19276, Springfield IL 62794-9276 or Kurt.Neibergall@illinois.gov.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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