News Local/State

New Legislative Package Aims To Protect Mahomet Aquifer

Map of the Mahomet Aquifer.

Map of the Mahomet Aquifer in east central Illinois. City of Champaign

Republican and Democratic lawmakers representing Champaign County have put forward a package of five bills in the Illinois General Assembly they say will protect the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people in the state.

One of the bills would allocate $4 million in funds for a helicopter-based, electromagnetic mapping technology to provide highly detailed pictures from under the surface of the aquifer.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said providing funds for this technology was one of the primary recommendations of the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force established by the Illinois General Assembly. Rose says the data that comes from the mapping will help determine the scope of the 2016 natural gas leak from the Chicago utility company Peoples Gas that occurred in one zone of the aquifer in Champaign County.

“That would give us data to know where the exact parameters and the definition of the spill is so we can better address it, and so the scientists can come up with a better plan to get the gas out of there,” Rose said.  

The state attorney general’s office sued Peoples Gas in 2017 over the leak into the aquifer. The proposed legislation, which Rose is sponsoring, would allow for the state to distribute restitution payments from the company if their lawsuit is successful.

“We’ve created a mechanism by which, hopefully, the attorney general’s office, in its lawsuit can provide a way to reimburse the tax payers for the cost,” Rose said.

Among the other bills in the legislative package is a measure to establish a permanent council to serve as a watchdog and to provide oversight for the Mahomet Aquifer. The legislative package would also allocate $1 million in funding for equipment for the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute (PRI) so that the organization can continue to research and study the aquifer in addition to $2.3 million in funding for ongoing PRI operations.

The proposed legislation emerged from the recommendations of the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force, a bipartisan coalition of central Illinois lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly, including Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, and Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign.  The task force also included scientists from the Illinois State Geological Survey, the Illinois Water Survey and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

"Developing a comprehensive package of legislation to help maintain the quality of the groundwater is necessary to protect the long-term health and safety of these residents," Bennett said in a statement. Ammons also expressed her support for the legislation and said she looks forward to working with her colleagues “to maintain our commitment to safe drinking water."