Residents blame irrigation for wells going dry

By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor


FISHER — For three months Robert and Barbara Stover had to lug water to their rural Foosland home every day because their well had dried up during the summer drought.

They used the water for cooking, bathing (it wasn’t enough to take a bath) and to flush the toilet.

“We were carrying 20-25 gallons a day,” Robert Stover said.

After awhile, the Stovers (he is disabled) had had enough. They moved to their son’s trailer in Fisher. It will likely lead to them losing their home, where they have lived for about 30 years. They are unable to pay the utilities and lot payments for the Fisher trailer, while at the same time making mortgage payments on their rural home, and can’t afford to sink a deeper well, which he said would cost $10,000-$12,000.

The Stovers weren’t the only residents in the Dewey-Foosland-Fisher area whose wells either dried up or nearly did so during the summer. Harriet Cox, who lives near Fisher, said 13 families were represented at a recent meeting in Fisher to discuss the problem. Cox and her husband, Lyle, own a rental property whose well went dry.

They blame the problem on a new irrigation unit that went into use during the summer.

Curt Shields of Rantoul, whose family operates that and several other irrigation systems in the area, said he was told by his well driller that the unit couldn’t have caused the problem. Shields said the irrigation unit taps into the Mahomet Aquifer, which is 150-200 feet beneath the surface, while the residents whose wells have dried up draw water from the much shallower Glasford Aquifer (50-60 feet below the surface).

George Roadcap, an Illinois State Water Survey hydrologist, however, said shallow wells can be affected by irrigation units that tap into deep-water sources.

Roadcap said the problem is that “the irrigation wells are drilled to a different standard.”

“Often they’re not backfilled all the way up,” Roadcap said. “It creates a cross connection of shallow sand and deeper sands.”

The result is that the irrigation unit — even though it is not designed to do so — saps water from the shallower aquifers.

Roadcap said he isn’t surprised by well problems after the conditions experienced during the summer.

“First of all, it’s a drought,” he said. “There’s been a lot of irrigation systems go in, in Champaign County. We looked at water levels in the spring versus the summer.

We saw ... in the Rantoul-Fisher area and across northern Champaign County almost 18 feet of draw down.”

Cox said nine families have contracted with Urbana attorney Bill Graham to represent them in the matter. She said five new wells were dug serving six families — two families are served by one well — because their wells went dry, all within a couple of miles of one another.

In a letter sent to the Champaign County Public Health Department, Graham said the residents plan to seek relief but also want to ensure that other county residents don’t face the same kind of problems in the future that they’ve experienced.

Graham cited the Illinois Water Use Act of 1983 that requires the county’s soil and water conservation district to regulate high-capacity wells that draw more than 100,000 gallons of water per day to determine the effect on neighboring residents.

The law, though, has one flaw, according to Bruce Stikkers, resource conservationist with the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District. He said the General Assembly has not provided the funding to enforce it.

“The problem is the State Legislature gave the water survey that job, and (we) don’t have any money to do the investigation,” Stikkers said. “Those don’t get done. In this case, on the original application it did not have that it was going to be over 100,000 gallons a day, so the health department did not pass the information on to us, and if they did we couldn’t have done anything about it.”

Shields said he was assured by his well driller that the farm’s irrigation unit wasn’t the cause of the problem.

“When the well guy comes out ... the first thing they do is a test hole, and they see how much water is available,” Shields said. “They drill the well 300 feet deep.

There’s actually a head pressure, so it’s almost like a gusher when drilling oil.”

Shields said the casing is fitted down to 300 feet, “and on the outside of the casing they pack it with clay (and) all these casings are sealed” to prevent drawing from a water source other than the Mahomet Aquifer.

He said the driller provides a soil bore report for every few feet they drill through.

“If we drilled through an aquifer it’s in the report,” Shields said. “The well guy told me it is basically impossible for our wells to dry up somebody that’s got a 70-90-foot well, or some of them were 50-foot wells ... because they don’t have anything to do with the aquifer.”

Shields said some people whose wells dried up live up to 3 miles from the irrigation fields.

“We had wells that were a quarter to a half a mile from our irrigation unit that were fine,” Shields said. “It was the ones that were further away that were complaining.”

Shields said a cone effect normally takes place in an irrigation system, and the closest residential wells would be more likely affected.

Graham said the residents affected by the water disruption want to impress upon the Illinois Geological Survey and the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District that they have an obligation to closely scrutinize permit requests for high-capacity irrigation wells and to reject commercial irrigation permits when their usage may reasonably be anticipated to interfere with the drinking water well production of other property owners.

Graham said the Shields irrigation unit, which was installed last year but not used until this year, has a pumping capacity of 1,250 gallons a minute and affected other area wells due to a “cone of depression” around the irrigation well site and that it created a hydraulic pressure differential, which “de-watered the upper aquifer (Glasford), draining it into the lower aquifer (Mahomet).”

Shields, however, said the aquifer “has head pressure on it that pulls up. It doesn’t draw down.”

Graham said he expects a lawsuit to be filed “depending on negotiations with the well owners.”

“If there’s no remedy by next spring I would think some (action) would need to be taken,” he said.

Graham said he wants every area resident who experienced well problems to step forward.

“We’re still trying to get out to folks that are affected,” Graham said. “We’d like to kind of have a unified voice and bring it to the farm owner, and if that doesn’t work (pursue litigation).”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

SUMMER WAS QUITE DIFFICULT FOR THOSE LEFT WITHOUT WATER
 

By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor

FISHER — MJ Shields grew up about a mile from where she now resides in the country between Fisher and Dewey.

“That’s why I moved out there because I love to be in the country,” Shields said of her home of the past three years.

But country living took a downturn for Shields and several other neighbors during the summer. Their wells dried up, and in their opinion a nearby irrigation unit that went online this year might be the culprit.

Shields said the well problem ruined her summer “to say the least.”

“You could not have people over,” she said. “You can’t put a price on that. You can’t do laundry; you can’t run a dishwasher.”

Shields had to take out a second mortgage on her home to pay for a deeper well to be drilled.

The last few months have been an emotional time for her.

“It’s frustrating, and it’s very upsetting,” the 56-year-old Shields said.

Her well dried up July 30. She wasn’t able to get water pumped to her home until the new well became operational Sept. 10.

For the first 17 days Shields was without water, she had to buy jugs of water for home use and wash her clothes at a laundromat, which was difficult to do because she got off work after all the laundromats had closed.

Things would have been even worse were it not for the kindness of her neighbors, Harriet and Lyle Cox.

“Mr. and Mrs. Cox were very good to me,” Shields said.

They brought her a 1,000-gallon water wagon, which was filled three times.

The Coxes also experienced a well going dry. A well on rental property they own also could not bring up water, and they had to drill a new one.  

The episode has changed Shields’ outlook on how precious water is. The same goes for Lana and Toby Tauben, who live near Shields and whose well also went dry.

“You don’t realize how much you take it for granted until it’s not there,” Toby Tauben said.

Added Shields, “You can deal without power with a generator, but when you’re without water, you can’t do anything.”

The Taubens were more fortunate than Shields. They were without water for only about two weeks compared to 2 1/2 months for Shields.

About a week after a nearby irrigation unit stopped being used, the Taubens’ well began to pump water again. Lana Tauben said she and her husband debated whether to spend the money to drill a deeper well but decided it was necessary when they learned that two additional irrigation units are scheduled to go online near them next year.

When their well was down, the Taubens bought gallons of water to use. Then when their well started pumping a little water they filled up at night.

“We learned how to camp in our house,” Lana said.

“That involved using about 2 cups of water to wash your hands and face and to brush your teeth and use sprinkle showers.”

They used bottled water for drinking.

The Taubens, Shields and other residents of the area have learned a lot more about the Glasford and Mahomet aquifers that flow beneath the area than they knew before.

Several area wells were tapped into the Glasford Aquifer, which is much shallower than the Mahomet Aquifer. Their new wells had to be drilled down to the Mahomet Aquifer, which has a more plentiful supply.

Lana Tauben also said they learned about the cone effect that an irrigation unit can cause.

“When there is a higher-powered well that is pulling water out and they puncture through the Glasford Aquifer down into the Mahomet (Aquifer), if (the well) isn’t sealed properly and as the pump pulls the water out ... it causes suction from the aquifer above it and suctions ... it down, and everything on the outside of that starts to lose water until that cone spreads far enough,” Lana said.




 

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