Water supply planning: Kankakee watershed assessment of water resources for water supply

Walton R. Kelly, Zhenxing Zhang, Daniel B. Abrams, Daniel R. Hadley, Devin H. Mannix, Elias Getahun, H. Vernon Knapp, George S. Roadcap, Scott C. Meyer, Benedykt Dziegielewski, Riley Balikian, Jason F. Thomason

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingTechnical report


This report examines the impacts of current and future demands on water supplies for the Kankakee Watershed Water Supply Planning Subregion (WSPR) in northeastern Illinois, an area comprising most of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties and portions of Ford, Will, Vermilion, and Grundy Counties that intersects the Kankakee River watershed boundary. Initial water demand scenarios were developed for a three-county region (Ford, Iroquois, and Kankakee) out to 2060 for five major water sectors, including thermoelectric power generation, public supply, self-supplied domestic, self-supplied industrial and commercial (IC), and self-supplied irrigation, livestock, and environmental (ILE), and are described in a companion report (Meyer et al., 2019). Total water usage in 2010 was estimated to be 39 million gallons per day (mgd), with two sectors, public supply and ILE, accounting for more than 80 percent of the demand in the region. Most of the ILE demand was for crop irrigation. Self-supplied IC accounted for 13 percent and the domestic sector 6 percent of the usage. Significant water resources are available to meet demands in the Kankakee WSPR, including both groundwater and surface water. Two major aquifer systems occur in the region: (1) productive sand and gravel aquifers, primarily in the south where the Mahomet Aquifer is encountered; and (2) weathered Silurian-Devonian dolomite, which is the most productive aquifer system in the region. Both the dolomite and Mahomet Aquifers are overlain by clay over most of the watershed, limiting leakage from shallower sources. The deeper Cambrian-Ordovician sandstones are generally too saline in this area to use as a water supply, although they are heavily used just outside of the watershed boundary in Will, Kendall, and Grundy Counties. Although the aquifers are generally thought to be adequate to meet most expected future demands, there are some sensitive areas that should be monitored closely. The most important area appears to be southeastern Kankakee and northeastern Iroquois Counties, where demands for irrigation water are highest on account of sandy soils. These demands are met from the dolomite aquifers and have been shown to result in dewatering of the dolomite during the irrigation season.Water quality in the Silurian-Devonian dolomite aquifer system is generally good. At a few locations, nitrate and chloride concentrations are elevated, but at concentrations below their respective drinking water standards. Water moves relatively rapidly from land surface into the Silurian-Devonian dolomite aquifer where it is near land surface, especially in the northern half of the region; aquifer protection activities should be a priority in these areas. The primary surface water sources in the Kankakee WSPR are the Kankakee and Iroquois Rivers. Currently there are four entities withdrawing water from the Kankakee River in the planning region: Aqua Illinois-Kankakee Division, which supplies the city of Kankakee, the city of Wilmington, Exelon Dresden Station, and Exelon Braidwood Generation Station. Although the Kankakee River has reliable water for meeting current power generation and public water supply needs, the cooling water withdrawals from the river could be limited on account of protected minimum flows and water temperature criteria. Therefore, both Dresden and Braidwood plants have a considerable storage capacity in their cooling ponds to buffer the impact of the minimum flow restriction. With increasing water demand and potential climate change, the frequency and duration of the minimum flow restriction may be increased in the future. Both power plants using the Kankakee River for cooling water may rely on storage water more frequently.Water demand from within the watershed is not expected to increase dramatically in the future. However, large portions of Will County are at risk to dewatering of the Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone aquifers. As a result, communities within these at-risk areas are seeking alternate water supplies in anticipation of these impacts. One possible option is the Kankakee River. As part of the process of exploring alternative supplies, both Joliet and Godley have requested withdrawing a large amount of water from the lower reach of the Kankakee River. The communities served by this water lie primarily outside of the watershed, so both withdrawal and consumptive use of Kankakee River water could increase substantially. Unlike within the watershed, water demand for these communities outside of the watershed is expected to increase. Another unknown is how water demand will be met in the future by industries along the Des Plaines River. Many of these industries also rely on the at-risk sandstone aquifers, so the long-term viability of their sandstone wells is contingent on decisions by communities.The major concern with increasing water demand on the Kankakee River is the minimum flow restriction and how to supplement the river water when it is not available during drought conditions, especially when the water is diverted out of the watershed, as the wastewater may not be returned to the river. Other backup supplies are of limited availability in areas of sandstone risk, as currently the sandstone aquifers are likely to be the only viable backup option; however, there are questions about its viability under increasing demand. Off-channel storages and/or abandoned storage pits could also be explored to provide additional backup supply.As a result, conjunctive water management that accounts for impacts on both river and groundwater supplies will be essential moving forward. Water users within the Kankakee River watershed should be cognizant of this potential future demand on the river. Available flow on the Kankakee River during low-flow periods may be contingent on whether the communities in Will County also tap into it as a water supply, so water planners currently using or anticipating growth in use of the Kankakee River water should stay informed on planning decisions outside of the region. Sandstone users considering using the Kankakee River as a backup supply are also currently working with the ISWS to evaluate the viability of the Kankakee River as a backup supply under low-flow scenarios on the Kankakee River. This is critically important because of the rapid response of the sandstone aquifer when demands change.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherIllinois State Water Survey
StatePublished - Jul 2019

Publication series

NameISWS Contract Report


  • ISWS


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