Groundwater Protection by Local Government

Department of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Groundwater Protection by Local Government

I. INTRODUCTION

Almost half of the population of the United States receives its drinking water from underground sources, or groundwater. It is also a major source for irrigation, industrial processes, and livestock watering. Half of the residents of Illinois depend on groundwater for their drinking water. Groundwater comprises most of the small fraction of the earth’s water that is in a form usable by humans. For these reasons it is extremely imperative that these water supplies be adequately protected.
For centuries, people have disposed of liquid waste into the subsurface environment. Harmful substances placed on the land surface or buried underground can seep through and contaminate groundwater supplying public and private drinking water wells. Substances which have the potential to harm water quality include: industrial wastes, landfilling leachate, agricultural chemicals, septic system effluent, oil and gasoline, animal wastes, acid-mine drainage, oil-fieldbrine wastes, road salts, hazardous wastes, and lawn and household chemicals.

State and local governments shoulder the responsibility to protect Illinois’ groundwater resources. State efforts to protect groundwater are spread out among numerous agencies and complex laws. Recognizing the need to unify the State’s groundwater protection program, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act (IGPA) 415 /ILCS 55/1 et. seq (1992) in 1987. The intent of the IGPA is to protect Illinois’ groundwater reserves as a natural and public resource, establish new policies and coordinate existing programs. Two existing statutes, The Environmental Protection Act 415 ILCS 5/1 et. seq. (1992) and the Illinois Water Well Construction Code 415 ILCS 30/3 (1992), were amended to assign additional duties to existing regulatory agencies.

State responsibilities include: research and education; establishing minimum setback zones for public and private water supply wells; conducting hazard reviews for smaller communities upon request; conducting contaminant source inventories for all public water supply wells; establishing technical requirements for certain activities which could contaminate wells; establishing comprehensive groundwater quality standards; implementing priority groundwater protection planning regions; and providing for the establishment of regulated recharge areas.

Local government authority to protect groundwater includes: adopting maximum setback zone ordinances; conducting groundwater protection needs assessments; participating in the establishment of priority groundwater planning regions and regulated recharge areas; and adopting setbacks as a zoning overlay district.

The threat of groundwater pollution can be significantly reduced by utilizing the best management practices available at the regional and local level. To increase water supply protection, local governments have various powers available. These include subdivision ordinances, site plan reviews, design standards, operating standards, source prohibitions, purchase of property or development rights, public education, groundwater monitoring, household hazardous waste collection, and water conservation programs. With the technical support of state agencies, local government can use its powers and local presence to complement the work of the Illinois Environment Protection Agency (IEPA), Pollution Control Board (PCB), and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

An important aspect of the IGPA is to protect groundwater by controlling contaminating land uses near wells and groundwater recharge areas. Although the state regulates both new wells and contaminating land uses, local government has an important role in assisting in the implementation of the Act. It is in a community’s self-interest to be aware of wells and potential contamination sources. Communities may also increase the water supply protection by initiating their own regulation procedures.

The primary purpose of this document is to provide information to local governments on how to help implement the IGPA. It explains the major causes of groundwater contamination, clarifies the application of the IGPA and other existing groundwater legislation to local governments, and outlines ways in which local Illinois governments can help to protect their groundwater quality.

For your free copy of this document, contact the Illinois EPA Groundwater Section (MC#3) at 1021 North Grand Avenue East, Springfield, IL. 62794-9276 or call 217/785-4787.