In our “Uncharted Waters” series, The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting took at look at what’s behind the recent spike in irrigation, the lack of regulations around groundwater and stalled water supply planning efforts and the impact this will have on Illinois in the future.
Almost 1,000 pivots have been installed in counties statewide in the past four years as a result of higher crop prices and the demand of seed corn companies, an almost 20 percent increase in overall irrigation that equals the use of more than half a million people each year.
While Illinois is not currently facing a water crisis, highly populated areas with high growth — namely Chicagoland and Champaign County — are undergoing some levels of water conflict, partly because of agricultural irrigation. The State Water Survey projects that in the coming decades, Illinois will require 20 to 50 percent more water. But planning for the increase has been inadequate, largely due to a halt in planning because of the ongoing state budget crisis, government water experts say. In 2006, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order that the water survey and Illinois Department of Natural Resources would develop state and regional water supply plans for 10 regions of the state. However, only three of those plans were completed, and two were being developed when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources suspended all regional water supply planning activities in March 2015 because of a lack of funding from the state legislature.