ARTICLE 3: Is the Village's Water Supply "Sustainable?"
Can you imagine having plenty of water – but that water is contaminated? Or the water quality is excellent -- but wells are going dry? In the groundwater world, the concept of sustainability encompasses both water supply and water quality, over time. Sustainable groundwater management means maintaining a plentiful, clean water supply without creating environmental consequences.
Water Supply. A community’s water needs are defined by local planning and zoning, which sets the density of development, limits on impervious surface, and types of land uses allowed. More rooftops, people, pavement, and industries using large amounts of water mean more water consumed or diverted from groundwater recharge areas. All these factors can affect aquifer water levels. The greater Barrington area has avoided water problems by implementing lower densities and environmental protections, which in fact help protect the region’s water resources.
High densities create high water demand
Did you know that undetected leaking pipes and broken water mains result in very significant water loss? As a responsible community, Barrington performs leak detection surveys every 1-2 years for the entire water system that identify very small leaks in order to repair them before they create a significant loss. This supports the system’s sustainability.
Changing patterns of climate conditions also factor into sustainability of the water supply. The State Climatologist recently reported that four of the top 10 warmest summers on record in the Chicago region have occurred since 2010! And while we had above normal rainfall this summer, we currently are in drought conditions -- at six inches below normal for the year so far. As you can imagine, changing weather and rainfall patterns can produce changes in groundwater levels.
In addition, Illinois’ Bulletin 70 indicates that heavy precipitation events will increase in frequency and amounts in the future. But heavy rains of short duration make it difficult for the ground to absorb the water. Therefore, the Village and surrounding communities wisely utilize retention/detention basins to hold the water in order to keep it from running off and flooding other properties and thus enhance groundwater replenishment.
Short, intense rain events create stormwater runoff and less groundwater recharge
Water Quality. Here’s some great news – our area does not have natural water quality concerns, except for iron and hardness which are merely aesthetic (see BACOG report on water quality). Neither have “emerging contaminants of concern” been detected. But the Village is vigilant in keeping a watch on potential new contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, microplastics and PFAS.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are used to make Teflon, fire-fighting foams, and other products -- which contribute PFAS contamination to water. The good news is State testing shows that PFAS levels in all community wells in the Barrington area are below the minimum detection level.
While low concentrations of microplastics in groundwater were identified in a 2018 State of Illinois study, they were found only in karst formations in southern and western Illinois. Karst formed where carbonate bedrock (limestone, dolomite) was eroded by flowing water, creating open sinkholes and caves close to ground surface. These formations are a direct pathway for contamination to reach groundwater. However, the good news is that these karst formations do not exist in our area. As such, fortunately, the soils above our area’s shallow aquifers help to naturally filter out microplastics.
Monitoring. The scientific community asserts that the most useful action governments can take is the collection of groundwater quantity and quality data. The Village regularly measures water levels and quality in its shallow aquifer wells, and our region is cooperatively implementing this advice with on-going monitoring programs at the Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG).
Monitoring water levels
BACOG’s water levels monitoring program’s latest analysis showed a five-foot increase across the area over five years. Though this data covers only a short period, the analysis is encouraging. BACOG’s new water quality network monitors 25 wells across the area, and no health-related contaminants of concern were found in their recent 2008-2018 BACOG report; these results are also positive indicators for sustainability.
The Village continually looks for ways to protect our good groundwater resource. Barrington is watchful for supply and contamination issues and supports regional work to monitor regional groundwater quality and levels. In the Village and in our region, our governments are moving forward -- armed with science, data and forethought -- into a future of sustainable water resources.
ARTICLE 2: Is Barrington's Water Supply "Good?"
Where does natural water quality come from? In the Barrington area, it is a result of the last melting glaciers that left behind soils and mineral deposits that comprise the shallow aquifer system – the source of 98% of the area’s water, including Barrington’s.
What does it mean to have “good water quality?”
Most people would say that good water quality is combination of water that is completely safe to drink and pleasing to taste, smell and feel. We agree!
All municipal water systems must comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to protect the public health. That’s because at high levels certain contaminants in drinking water may cause cancer or other serious health effects. A 2021 Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) report on water quality, however, found there are NO health-related contaminants of concern in the Barrington area.
Aesthetic contaminants present in the area include iron, hardness, and chloride. The 2021 BACOG report found high levels of naturally occurring iron and hardness, which may impact taste, color, or staining, but the report emphasized they have no impact on human health.
Barrington Tests and Treats Our Water
When we turn on the faucet, we expect good, clean water. The Village monitors the water supply every day to make sure it complies with the SDWA and is safe to drink.
Barrington’s groundwater is pumped from four wells into tanks, and from there it is sampled, treated, and improved to make it perfectly drinkable. It is disinfected, and a small amount of fluoride is added for tooth health. The water is sent through another process that removes 80-85% of the natural iron from the finished water. Home water softening can eliminate more iron and hardness.
What’s at Risk, and What You Can Do
While located in the shallow aquifer system, Barrington’s wells are relatively deep – at 305, 210, 153 and 148 feet below ground. While it is possible for surface contaminants to travel down to groundwater, there is currently no evidence that this is occurring in the Barrington area – except for chloride.
Including chloride, there are three types of surface-level contaminants that could possibly enter our groundwater which are entirely human-introduced and preventable:
Salting & Chloride. Over the past 50 <?> years, chloride levels increased substantially into water runoff everywhere that development occurred, largely due to heavy use of salt on roads for snow/ice removal. Chloride levels increased significantly in rivers and lakes, but also somewhat in groundwater. Good news: The BACOG 2021 report showed that 93 percent of groundwater chloride levels were not only below, but well below, the federal standard. The Village and other BACOG communities now use less salt and safer products, which is making a difference. Still, residents and businesses are encouraged to use the minimum amount of salt possible on pavements at home and work.
Pharmaceuticals. We used to hear “flush unused medications down the toilet,” but no longer! More pharmaceuticals are getting into surface water (lakes, rivers), harming fish and aquatic systems. But it is possible for this emerging contaminant to also enter groundwater, and so residents are encouraged to take unused medications to the Village drop-off kiosk to keep drugs out of drinking water.
Fertilizers & Pesticides. The phosphorus, nitrogen and chemicals in products used for lawns and agriculture increasingly are finding their way into surface and groundwater. Elevated contaminant levels have not been found in Barrington area groundwater, but residents can help prevent a future problem by carefully following fertilizer and pesticide application instructions and limiting amounts used on home landscapes and gardens.
The Village actively works to maintain high-quality drinking water, through testing and treatment and preventing pollution. The benefits of our good groundwater make it a bargain, especially when compared to other water sources with the same contamination issues but a much higher price tag. Let’s work together to keep it that way.
Iron Removal the Village Water Treatment Plant
ARTICLE 1: Barrington's Water Supply: Is It Finite or Infinite?
The Hydrologic Cycle