Protecting the Mahomet Aquifer: what is it, why does it need protection, and how can we protect it?

The Mahomet Aquifer is a massive underground water system that is the sole source of drinking for an area that includes 14 east-central Illinois counties. The aquifer provides about 58 million gallons of drinking water each day for 120 public water systems and thousands of rural wells that serve nearly 750,000 people in Illinois. Recognizing its importance the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced last week a decision to designate a portion of the Mahomet Aquifer system as a sole source aquifer.*

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Clinton Landfill, located above the Mahomet Aquifer in DeWitt County wants to bury PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) wastes exceeding the current regulatory levels. PCBs and MGP wastes, which are persistent in the environment and are very slow to break down, cause cancer, are endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. Any possibility of PCBs or MGP wastes leaching into this valuable and irreplaceable resource is simply too great a risk to take.

protect_the_aquifer_dropletLegislation (SB 1698 and HB 1326) would protect the Mahomet Aquifer by blocking the disposal of PCBs and MGPs in landfills over the aquifer.

Could the convoluted 8-year fight to protect the Mahomet be closing in on victory?

Eight years ago, in 2007, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued a permit to Clinton Landfill to store potentially hazardous waste. But, before the landfill could start accepting PCBs it had to also get a permit from the U.S. EPA.

By 2008, public opposition to the permit began when 75% of the DeWitt County residents voted in opposition of the landfill’s plans. Joining them were U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama who wrote a letter to then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson expressing “strong concerns” about the proposal. In 2009 then-U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson believing residents concerns “at best [had] been ignored and at worst treated with arrogance and condescension” by the EPA sent a letter asking the regional EPA administrator to stop the permitting process.

In April of 2011, the Illinois EPA issued a permit for the landfill to begin accepting chemical waste types that do not require a federal permit, which includes MGP wastes. Twenty-two top officials from agencies around the region began organizing formal opposition to the federal permit. In, 2012 the officials filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB), saying landfill officials did not follow the proper zoning rules when they built a chemical waste unit and began accepting potentially hazardous trash.

A year later the IPCB dismissed the complaint on the grounds that it was irrelevant because the Illinois EPA had already issued the permit. A few months later, in January 2014, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed the pollution control board decision.

Now, after 8 long years we could see a good resolution to a bad idea. Last week the USEPA announced a decision to designate a portion of the Mahomet Aquifer system as a sole source aquifer*. While the USEPA designation of the Mahomet as a sole source aquifer doesn’t directly help the aquifer from this landfill proposal, it does send a strong message that the Mahomet Aquifer is a special resource that deserves the protection that SB 1698 and HB 1326 can give it.

You can help!
Take action here — ask your legislators to Support SB 1698 and HB 1326.

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*The Safe Drinking Water Act gives EPA authority to designate all or part of an aquifer as a “sole source” if contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health and there are no physically available or economically feasible alternative sources of drinking water to serve the population that relies on the aquifer. The designation authorizes EPA review of projects that receive Federal financial assistance to assess potential for contamination of the aquifer system that would create a significant hazard to public health.

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