Enjoy Barrington

ISWS-HYDROLOGIC CYCLE with permission to use 4-1-2015
Recently we have been focusing on Barrington’s water supply in order to gain a better understanding of the water we have in our community and where it comes from. Water expert and former BACOG Executive Director Janet Agnoletti has been kind enough to write a series of articles for us on this topic.

ARTICLE 4: Controlling Our Water Supply, Controlling Our Destiny

It is important to protect our groundwater. As we previously discussed, Barrington is very fortunate to have access to a shallow aquifer that is quite capable of meeting all our area’s water needs, as long as we take care to conserve it through some of the methods previously described.


We are fortunate that we can control our municipal water system and its costs. It allows affordable rates for residents and businesses, and all can protect the shallow aquifer through conservation efforts.


Conservation Is Key. Conditions such as drought, in combination with high water use, can create a significant strain on the aquifer. In summer, the amount of water pumped can be significantly higher than in winter due to people filling pools and watering landscapes. On average, Barrington’s water use is 58% greater in summer than winter. Thus, the Village implemented an outdoor watering ordinance in 2008 to conserve water during periods of potential shortage.  The Village’s forethought in implementing summer water restrictions helps ensure an adequate community supply.  

Re-use of non-potable “gray water” (fully treated wastewater) is another Village management measure used to conserve water. Re-use retains some purified wastewater (called “effluent”) in the watershed instead of sending it downstream and away. Public Works provides this non-potable effluent to contractors for watering. In fact, irrigation contractors are not allowed to take water from hydrants on the municipal system. This practice is a win-win, both reducing withdrawals from the aquifers and enhancing groundwater recharge.

What About Alternatives? Sometimes we hear the questions, “Why can’t we get water from Lake Michigan, or should we drill a well to a deep aquifer?” The answer to those questions highlights how valuable an asset our municipally-controlled shallow aquifer system is.


Drilling a deep aquifer could cost as much as $600,000 to $1 million. Unfortunately, regional demand on these aquifers historically has been greater than the safe yield. Additionally, deep aquifers contain dangerous contaminants such as radium and barium, which would require both removal from drinking water and additional wastewater treatments, adding to the cost of deep aquifer water. 

Tapping into Lake Michigan water would cost multiple millions of dollars in infrastructure but, more importantly, being dependent on Lake Michigan water also means that other communities would be controlling our water supply.

In our area Lake Michigan water would be purchased from the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency (CLC-JAWA), but only if it is available. Water rates are set by CLC-JAWA based on water treatment, capital expense (plants, piping, booster pumps), and operating personnel costs. The communities purchasing Lake Michigan water do not control CLC-JAWA expenses or rates, and additional water allocations are not guaranteed. 

To illustrate the costs of Lake Michigan water, if it were available, a nearby community recently determined their deep well water system was unsustainable. They moved to Lake Michigan water at a cost of $48 million. 54% of their costs are being financed through property taxes, and 46% will come from municipal water rates that are set to increase 46% over the next four years.

Cooperation Is Important.
While controlling our water supply helps us to control our destiny, intergovernmental cooperation is still an important piece of water management and control.  As a member of the Barrington Area Council of Governments, the Village benefits from BACOG’s regional programs that measure and evaluate water levels and groundwater quality. As a member of the Flint Creek/Spring Creek Watershed Partnership, we help with improvements to water quality in lakes and streams, which also supports drinking water quality. 


The Village also is a member of the Northwest Water Planning Alliance (NWPA), which connects us to communities and counties that share the regional groundwater supply. Barrington area shallow aquifers could be adversely impacted by water use elsewhere, but our participation connects us to 80 governments in NWPA where members work toward collaborative, innovative solutions to water issues.


Protecting our good groundwater is the best way to ensure water is affordable and sustainable. Barrington’s water management helps control costs and safeguards the aquifers, and our involvement with other entities and governments helps the Village control its future.  



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

high density


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

USGS Hunter measuring STRM 7-20-21


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


Iron Removal 2


ARTICLE 1: Barrington's Water Supply: Is It Finite or Infinite?
There are an estimated 7,840 water wells in the greater Barrington region, and more than 98% of them are pumping from the shallow aquifer system. In the Village of Barrington, our water is supplied from four of these wells, which are large municipal wells.
Given the current news about climate change, drought, and water supplies across the country, we might wonder, can Barrington’s water supply ever be depleted?
Here’s the good news: None of Earth’s water is permanently lost or gained – it just keeps moving through the water cycle (hydrologic cycle), which is the natural, continuous movement of water on, above, and below land surface of the Earth (see graphic). Our water supply is continuously replenished from rainfall and precipitation, but water levels do go up and down depending on climate and usage factors. 
So while our source of water cannot technically be fully depleted, if we squander our water through over-consumption and waste, it can take decades or centuries for water levels to return to today’s levels, which is the amount we currently need to meet our demand. 
How Does the Water Cycle Work?
The sun drives the water cycle, heating ocean and lake water and causing it to evaporate into vapor in the atmosphere. Plants and trees release water as vapor to the air in the process of evapotranspiration.
When water vapor rises, it condenses into clouds and falls back to Earth as precipitation in the form of rain or snow. The sun also melts snow – and increasingly polar ice and glaciers – and that water runs off into streams and rivers that eventually head to the oceans. Precipitation also travels through soils down to the aquifers.
Water flows through soil materials underground, and when it is close to land surface, it may discharge to streams and natural areas that are fed by groundwater, such as wetlands and fens. Through the water cycle, groundwater is recharged (replenished) by rain and snow melt.  
For the 7,840 shallow aquifer wells in the greater Barrington region – whether water comes from a municipal or community well or a private domestic well – all the water is coming from the same source. 
What is an Aquifer?
Aquifers are saturated rock and/or glacial soils under the ground that hold and can transmit water. There are two main types of aquifers: shallow and deep, and they are a key part of the water cycle. 
While deep aquifers are discrete units of rock, typically sandstone or limestone, the shallow aquifer system is comprised of sand, gravel and clay materials left by the last melting glaciers and the limestone bedrock they rest upon. Barrington draws its water supply from the shallow aquifers.
The shallow aquifer system extends from land surface to the shallow bedrock, about 200-350 feet below ground. Groundwater continuously flows vertically and horizontally, and the shallow aquifer system is considered a single interconnected water source. Precipitation recharges the aquifers through the water cycle. Shallow aquifers, like surface waters (oceans, lakes, streams) can be contaminated by water carried from land surfaces.
In Barrington, our shallow aquifer system is recharged locally, within a few miles of the aquifer. While it can be susceptible to drought and depletion, fortunately, over the past five years (2014–19) studies have shown that there has been a five-foot increase in our groundwater levels.  
Our region is extremely fortunate to have an excellent, readily accessible source of drinking water. It is true that all the water on Earth already exists, and the groundwater we enjoy deserves our protection. As such, we must not squander it through overuse. If we pollute it, we may permanently impair the drinking water quality. It is in our own best interest to safeguard the good water we have.  

The Hydrologic Cycle

ISWS-HYDROLOGIC CYCLE with permission to use 4-1-2015

Aquifers Cross-Section
Aquifers Cross-Sec Meyer 2012


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