Illinois State Water Survey - Groundwater in Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Groundwater in Illinois

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A forum for discussing groundwater issues in Illinois by scientists at the Illinois State Water Survey

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  • Improving our ability to “see” aquifers

    The Illinois State Water Survey has developed new modeling approaches to analyze the 150+ years of data we have collected in the region, improving both our historic understanding of the aquifers of the state and our modeling capabilities to simulate future water supply planning scenarios.

  • Groundwater Depletion in Chicago’s Southwestern Suburbs

    Sandstone aquifers are a major water resource in Northeast Illinois, but these aquifers have experienced declining water levels since the first well was drilled into them in 1863. In modern times, sandstone water supplies in the southwest suburbs are at the highest risk, where water levels have reached historic lows, exceeding 1,100 feet of drawdown when wells are pumping. That’s equivalent to water levels having fallen by 88 floors of Willis Tower, and by 2040, the regional trend suggests that drawdown will have reached the top floor!

  • A Change in Focus: More Groundwater

    Due to various circumstances, I have been unable to maintain a reasonable schedule for blog posts on my blog "Water Quality, Focus on Illinois." In fact, I haven't posted in a number of months. As a result, we are expanding the blogs to include multiple authors in the Groundwater Science Section at the Illinois State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. The scope of the blog posts will be broadened to include many topics on groundwater, not just water quality, still with an emphasis on Illinois, although not limited to our state. We hope you enjoy the new look, and we look forward to your feedback.

  • Fish Adapting to Pollution

    Okay, this is way outside my area of expertise, but I thought this was really interesting. It seems that some organisms can adapt to what would normally be lethal levels of chemical pollutants. A paper published in Science reports that genetic adaptions in the Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) allow it to survive what, in unpolluted environments, would be lethal levels of bioaccumulative dioxin-like contaminants. The authors suggest that the killifish is able to adapt rapidly due to its large population sizes and high levels of genetic diversity.

    Reid et al., Science 354 (6317): 1305-1308.

  • Animas River Spill Follow-Up

    The first peer-reviewed paper (as far as I can tell) related to the Animas River, Colorado, was recently published. If you don’t remember, about 15 months ago, an estimated 3 million gallons of toxic acid mine drainage water was released into a small tributary of the Animas River due to the failure of a dam containing the waste. What I hadn’t realized, and is cited in this paper, is that there were two other major spill accidents, in 1974 and 1978, which released hundreds of thousands of acid mine drainage into the river.

  • Large Study of Bacterial Water Quality in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Many of us are aware of the lack of safe drinking water in many parts of the developing world, including Africa. The main culprit remains water resources that are not protected from enteric bacteria and viruses. A just released study did a meta-analysis of almost 43,000 water samples from 7 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to assess the amount of bacterial contamination and how it varied with respect to source type.


  • Micro- and Nanoparticles

    I’ve recently noticed a lot of articles and scientific studies about micro- and nanomaterials in the environment. So what are these? They are very, very small particles. The definitions are not hard and fast, but microparticles range from 0.1 and 100 µm (1 µm = 1 millionth of a meter). Nanoparticles are much smaller, on the order of 1 – 100 nm (1 nm = 1 billionth of a meter). There are both natural and engineered micro- and nanomaterials in our world. Ocean spray, smoke, and milk all contain natural nanomaterials. In recent years, engineered materials have been designed and produced with many useful applications. Some of the most commonly used nanomaterials are platinum, which is used in catalytic converters, and titanium dioxide, used is self-cleaning paint. Lithium-ion batteries often contain nickel magnesium cobalt oxide (NMC).


  • Thermal Pollution

    When I collect groundwater quality samples, temperature is one of the parameters always measured. It is considered a “physical” characteristic as opposed to a “chemical” characteristic of the water. In groundwater studies, temperature is not usually considered a water quality parameter, rather it is used to help understand recharge and discharge processes and determine inputs from deep geologic formations. In surface water, however, temperature is an important water quality parameter affecting aquatic organisms, and a recently published paper has looked at the magnitude of thermal pollution in many river basins throughout the world (Raptis, C.E., et al., 2016. Environmental Research Letters 11:104011; doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/10/104011).

  • Triclosan and Microbiomes

    Triclosan is a very common antibacterial compound, used in of antibacterial soaps and toothpaste, and it is found in humans (detected in about 75% of urine samples in the U.S. in 2008) and in the aquatic environment. In a recent study of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in some karst springs and cave streams in southwest Illinois, we detected triclosan in several samples. One of the concerns about its widespread use is that it may contribute to antibiotic resistance in the environment. However, a survey of recent studies reported in a recent issue of Science indicate some contradictory results [Yee, A.L., and J.A. Gilbert, 2016. Is triclosan harming your microbiome? Science  22 Jul 2016: Vol. 353, Issue 6297, pp. 348-349. DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2698].

  • Climate Change and Water Quality

    Occasionally I am asked to speculate on how climate change might impact water quality. It can be difficult to see how groundwater quality (my expertise) will be affected by changing climate. There are some obvious effects, such as saltwater intrusion as ocean levels rise, but that won’t be an issue in Illinois. Groundwater is generally shielded from variations in the weather, and changes in groundwater quality due to changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to be muted and subtle. However, surface water quality is a different story, and a recent article in Nature discusses this. [Michalak, A. M. 2016. Study role of climate change in extreme threats to water quality. Nature 535, 349–350 (21 July 2016) doi:10.1038/535349a]

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