CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 11/10/22: Beginning on Nov. 19 and extending for a few weeks, Champaign County citizens will spot a curiosity flying in the sky above: a helicopter towing a large coil frame hanging from long cables. Helicopter flights are part of an Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) project to map and better understand the Mahomet aquifer within the county.
With funding from Champaign County, the ISGS, a unit of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, has contracted with SkyTEM, a company that uses airborne electromagnetic technology to measure subtle changes in materials such as sand and clay and define aquifer boundaries. The coil frame extending from the helicopter creates images of the subsurface. The ISGS project team will use these images to create a 3-D picture of what the aquifer looks like down to 1,000 feet underground.
“This is a big step forward for the Champaign County community in better understanding our water resources,” said Kisa Mwakanyamale, an ISGS geophysicist. “This advanced technology is a safe and cost-effective way for Champaign County to get precision imaging below ground.”
The helicopter will fly from 100 to 150 mph in parallel lines with the frame suspended about 115 feet off the ground. It will not fly over the towns of Champaign, Urbana, or Savoy, as steel buildings interfere with the electromagnetic charge. The magnetic exposure from the equipment will not provide any safety risks to citizens.
Scientists at the ISGS and the Illinois State Water Survey have studied the Mahomet aquifer extensively at the regional level for decades to address issues such as water quality and supply. This study, however, will help fill in the gaps in understanding the geologic framework of the water resource in Champaign County, allowing researchers to provide more accurate local estimates about the aquifer’s long-term sustainability.
“This project implements rapid and state-of-the-art science-based research to resolve aquifer characteristics in three dimensions, which will ultimately help water-resource scientists improve predictions of its long-term sustainability and security,” said Jason Thomason, an ISGS geologist.
In 2017, PRI held a public workshop to discuss the current state of scientific understanding of the Mahomet aquifer and to propose new scientific strategies for future studies of the aquifer system. That same year, the Illinois General Assembly formed the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force to evaluate current aquifer protection regulations and ultimately offer legislative recommendations that would ensure the aquifer’s long-term protection.
Since 2017, these events have sparked support and action by many local legislators and leaders, local water resource advocacy groups, and university and industry water science leaders to collectively pursue increased public awareness and continued support of science-based studies of the aquifer.
Chris Stohr, Champaign County Board (CCB) member, District 10, suggested this project to the CCB Democratic Caucus, as part of the American Rescue Plan that provided funds for infrastructure projects related to clean drinking water. The caucus recognized the need to ensure sustainable water resources for Champaign County and proposed $500,000 for the study, which was unanimously approved by the County Executive and County Board.
“Potable water is vital for public health and safety and essential for agricultural and industrial economy in perpetuity,” Stohr said. “Residents of urban and rural Champaign County know that their drinking water comes from the Mahomet aquifer and that it is the sole source of water for much of East Central Illinois.”
Additional information about the ISGS project is available at https://publish.illinois.edu/mahomet-aquifer-mapping/.
Media contacts: Kisa Mwakanyamale, 217-265-0528, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jason Thomason, 217-244-2508, email@example.com