January 2014 Issue 3
Michael Lee—USGS, DeKalb office

Picture of the Month

USGS Well Monitoring Installation: The U. S. Geological Survey monitors groundwater levels at various locations all across the country.  At some locations, personnel visit the well periodically and obtain manual measurements of the groundwater level.  At other locations, like the one shown, electronic equipment record the groundwater level at specific time intervals (usually every 15 minutes).  Once each hour, the recorded data are transmitted via satellite and then displayed on the USGS website.

Groundwater level information can be useful for a variety of purposes including determining the direction of groundwater flow, calibrating groundwater models, identifying areas of aquifer overuse and monitoring long-term water level trends.  Continuous water level information can be especially useful for monitoring the short-term effects of pumping and the effects of extreme wet or dry periods on shallow aquifer systems.

Additionally, electronic water quality sensors can be placed in the wells and continuous water quality information, such as water temperature or specific conductance, can be recorded and transmitted.  Similar to the benefits of water level information, water quality information can be useful in determining if human activities are impacting water quality or identifying long-term trends in water quality.

Submitted by Jon Hortness, USGS

Executive Committee Members:

Executive Committee Chairman
Thomas Weisner
City of Aurora, Mayor
(Metro West COG)

Mary McCann
McHenry County Board Member
(McHenry County)

Kathleen Leitner
Village of Tower Lakes, President
(Barrington Area COG)

Dale Berman
Village of North Aurora, President
(Metro West COG)

Bonnie T. Carter
Lake County Board Member
(Lake County)

Terry Counley
Village of McCollum Lake, President
(McHenry County COG)

Karen Darch
Village of Barrington, President
(Northwest Municipal Conference)

Joseph Haimann
Kane County Board Member
(Kane County alternate)

David Kaptain
City of Elign, Mayor
(Metro West COG)

John Purcell
Kendall County Board Member
(Kendall County alternate)

Carolyn Schofield
McHenry County Board Member
(McHenry County alternate)

John Shaw
Kendall Count Board Chairman
(Kendall County)

Patsy Smith
Village of Campton Hills, President
(Metro West COG)

Melisa Taylor
Kane County Board Member
(Kane County)

Ruth Anne Tobias
DeKalb County Board Member
(DeKalb County)

Technical Advisory Committee Chairman:
Peter Wallers, P.E., CFM
Engineering Enterprises, Inc., President
Metro West COG Consulting Engineer
(630) 466-6721

The NWPA Executive Committee and Technical Advisory Committee did not meet in December. Please join us at the next Technical Advisory Committee meeting on January 28, 2014 at The Centre at Elgin at 10:00am.

At a recent meeting facilitated by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced its intention to sign contracts with CMAP, Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois Water Inventory Program, and the East Central Illinois and Kaskaskia Basin regional water supply planning groups to fund a range of water supply planning and plan implementation activities—including funding for CMAP to provide continued support to the NWPA and a number of initiatives that the Illinois State Water Survey is working on that relate to the NWPA region. Additionally, IDNR is providing seed funding for two new regional water supply groups – the greater Peoria area and Rockford/Quad Cities. This investment is expected to total $1.6 million in 2014.

It is expected that in January IDNR's proposed rule changes regarding Lake Michigan water permits will be submitted for First Notice and the Illinois Department of Public Health's "green" plumbing code revisions will be submitted for Second Notice. Information about the Illinois rulemaking process can be found here.

report by Illinois State Water Survey researchers was released that details two studies to support water resources planning in McHenry County, Illinois. Researchers concluded that groundwater resources in McHenry County may be strained in 35 to 40 years, potentially causing local water shortages and detrimental effects to the ecology of local streams.

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Progress Report

A Sweet Solution to a Salty Problem

By Kaitlyn McClain

2014 is off to a snowy, cold start! Without maintenance crews working round the clock to keep our streets clean and safe, conditions would have been far more dangerous. But what happens to the tons of salt that are used to de-ice our roads and sidewalks in the aftermath of a winter precipitation event? As snow and ice melt, the salt crystals dissolve and enter soil and bodies of water like rivers and shallow aquifers.

The most common de-icing chemicals are chlorides—sodium chloride (table salt), magnesium chloride and calcium chloride—that do not break down or go away once they are dissolved in water. While chlorides aren’t harmful to human health, they can be harmful to aquatic plants and animals and are corrosive to infrastructure like roads, bridges and pipes. They also cause the cost of water treatment to rise as the resulting salty taste makes water undrinkable.

The negative environmental effects of using traditional methods of de-icing roads are well-documented in the region at this point. According to a 2012 report released by the Illinois State Water Survey, most rivers, streams and lakes in the Chicagoland region have higher chloride concentrations than what is considered normal for this area. Chloride concentrations have been increasing in the region since the 1960s. The report attributes the elevated concentrations largely to road salt runoff.

Cities and towns in the region have been experimenting with some interesting de-icing alternatives in recent years. Alternatives to traditional rock salt compounds—like molasses, beet juice and cheese brine—are gaining in popularity due to their lower costs and environmental impacts. And they aren’t just better for the environment; they’re better at their job. 

“The mixture lowers the effective melting point, stores better in the storage facility and has a texture that creates less bounce coming off of the truck which allows us to use less,” explained Bill Edwards, maintenance superintendent for the Kane County Division of Transportation (KDOT). An effective product means that municipalities can use harmful de-icers at lower quantities—a win for both the taxpayers and the environment. In groundwater-dependent communities like those located in the Northwest Water Planning Alliance area, protecting water resources is especially crucial. Once groundwater is contaminated, it can’t be returned to its original state.

KDOT has been a regional leader in moving away from traditional road salt; they’ve used a mixture that is 80 percent magnesium chloride and 20 percent sugar beet byproduct or corn syrup for around thirteen years. The agency was one of the first in the region to use this mixture, and it has since become popular elsewhere.

“The carbohydrate is stickier,” said Edwards, “and that helps hold brine to the road. There is a longer residual.”

A longer residual—the amount of time salt is present on the road—means less salt has to be used, along with the county having to spend less on overtime and fuel costs. “There is a higher upfront cost that can be scary, but we are spending less on overtime and less on fuel, so for us it costs less in the end,” said Edwards. He added that KDOT got away from using the mixture for a period, but noticed the difference and went back to using the carbohydrate mixture. Because much less of an alternative solution than traditional road salt is needed to be effective, municipalities sometimes overapply. However, over time they find the amount that is most efficient - and most cost effective - for them. More salt does not mean more melting.

Moving away from traditional rock salt can increase public safety, cause less harm to our invaluable groundwater resources and cut municipal maintenance costs. It is encouraging to see Northwest Water Planning Alliance communities moving in an innovative direction. Make a resolution in 2014 to use salt more efficiently and to look into alternative de-icing methods in your community! 


The Illinois State Water Survey issued a report in 2012 entitled The Sources, Distribution, and Trends of Chloride in the Waters of Illinois. The report provides information about natural and human-induced points of entry for chlorides into water sources. Chloride is a major anion found in all natural waters. Most streams and aquifers in the region have elevated chloride concentrations due to road salt runoff, sewage, water conditioning salts, and fertilizer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has resources about salting for citizens and municipalities including training videos and outreach materials.


The Northwest Water Planning Alliance (NWPA), formed by intergovernmental agreements, seeks to collaboratively plan for and steward our shared river and groundwater resources to ensure a sustainable water supply for the people, economy, environment, and future generations.

For more information or to contribute to the newsletter, contact Kaitlyn McClain.

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