Beginning this year, farmers who own a high-capacity water well will need to maintain records of their water usage, and report them to the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). A high-capacity well is one that is rated at 100,000 gallons per day or more. Most irrigation wells in the area can pump between 750 gallons and 1,250 gallons per minute; well over the threshold. The new requirement applies to both surface and sub-surface water pumps.
Amended in 2010, the Illinois Water Use Act gave agriculture a 5-year grace period before having to report their usage. That grace period ends this year, and the ISWS has been working with the Illinois Farm Bureau and county Farm Bureaus to develop a plan to implement the new mandate.
As part of the law, agricultural irrigators can “aggregate” their data through a unit of local government. The law also allows for the use of an estimation method such as inches per acre, or gallons per minute, to calculate the daily usage.
“This aggregation provision is key,” commented Doug Anderson, Manager of the Wayne & White County Farm Bureaus. “Since the Illinois State Water Survey is a division of the state government, all of their records are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Those records include a farmer’s address, phone number, GPS coordinates of each well, and water usage data.”
The publication of water usage data is a concern for some area farmers, who cite the situation in the states of Colorado, Arizona, and California where crops are withering in the field each year due to water use restrictions. Restrictions on water usage could occur due to a drought, or due to residential development.
Area county Farm Bureaus are working together to develop a means for farmers to aggregate the data locally, before it goes to the ISWS.
Some farmers may be inclined not to report their data. Anderson said if the ISWS sees this happening, they will likely ask the state legislature to put some “teeth” in the law to compel farmers to report. Farm Bureau advises farmers against pushing ISWS to the point of encouraging a new penalty for non-compliance.
“This summer, it is very important for irrigators to maintain good records of when they run their irrigation wells,” said Anderson. “At the end of the year, the new irrigators association (or the ISWS) will be asking for your usage data.”