The Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) held the first of five statewide events commemorating 125 Years of Water and Weather on Feb. 4 in Champaign.
University of Illinois Atmospheric Science Professor and Nobel laureate Dr. Don Wuebbles reflected on what the Survey has contributed to climate research in Illinois and the field of atmospheric science. Wuebbles was presented with a commemorative plaque by head of the Climatology and Atmospheric Science Section at ISWS, Dave Kristovich.
Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford and Illinois State Hydrologist Laura Keefer emceed the event and took the stage to share his passion for climate and weather research across the state in his new role. Following the retirement of longtime state climatologist Jim Angel, Ford became the state’s climatologist in August 2019.
The presentations began with climatology research scientist Liang Chen and Illinois research climatologist Ashish Sharma discussing how climate change will affect Illinois communities and possible solutions.
According to Chen’s research, statewide precipitation is increasing annually, with extreme drought in summer months (July 2019 experienced a record low amount of precipitation). Coupled with intensified extreme temperatures, longer droughts, and more frequent intensive precipitation events, Chen’s research sets the stage for the climate challenges ahead for Illinois communities.
The result: Climate change will negatively affect air quality, flooding, drinking water quality and will place more stress on water infrastructures, and affect growing seasons with more frequent and intense precipitation and extreme temperatures.
Enter Ashish Sharma, who rhetorically asked, “What options does that leave Illinoisians?” He promptly responded with three options – mitigation, adaptation, or suffering. Sharma’s work emphasizes that climate change is a global issue, but solutions can be local. Because cities often have more impermeable pavement, less green space and tree canopies, and more exposure to industrial pollution, they will be particularly impacted as the climate shifts. These built environment characteristics lead to an increased risk of flooding, high temperatures, and poor air quality. Some potential solutions to offset these impacts include green rooftops, electric vehicles, and more permeable pavements. View the full presentations here.
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ISWS senior hydraulic engineer Glenn Heistand from the Coordinated Hazard Assessment and Mapping Program (CHAMP) took the stage to share a story about the history of flooding in Rockford, Illinois. Floods are the most common natural disaster in Illinois, accounting for more than 90% of declared disasters. Accurately identifying where flooding is likely to occur is the first step to reducing the personal and economic losses caused by flooding of homes and businesses. The ISWS Coordinated Hazard Assessment and Mapping Program (CHAMP) assesses local flood hazards, identifies high-risk areas, and engages community partners to inform, educate, and empower others to take action in preventing losses from natural hazards. Main takeaways from this talk? Flooding is natural, but flood damage is preventable. Reduce future damage through mitigation and avoidance. View the full presentation here.
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Over 36 years in the making, Illinois State Hydrologist Laura Keefer details data the Water Survey has been collecting for her entire career at ISWS. Keefer and colleague Elias Getahun, recently completed a trends analysis on this unprecedented long-term suspended sediment monitoring data along Illinois rivers.
Erosion and sedimentation have consistently been a critical issue in Illinois, and Keefer’s data reveals the highest 36-year mean annual sediment yields and concentrations were found at stations generally located in Western and Southern Illinois. As for trend analyses, Keefer and her team found no increasing trends for annual discharge, sediment load, and sediment concentration, and as Keefer notes in her presentation, sometimes the absence of trends can be a good sign. Decreasing trends were found in annual sediment load for 4 of the 14 stations analyzed and sediment concentration at 6 stations.
Data and statistics aside, Keefer reflects on the challenges the Water Survey faced in order to keep this work alive, even being the only agency to continue sediment monitoring in 1983, which has undoubtedly paid off. The network was established in 1980 and is currently in the 40th year of data collection. View the full presentation here.
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The event finished with recently retired ISWS scientist George Roadcap talking about the Mahomet Aquifer. The Mahomet Aquifer is one of Illinois’ most important groundwater resources, serving as the primary source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people in 15 Illinois counties and providing an estimated 220 million gallons of water per day to communities, agriculture, industry, and rural wells.
In 2017, the Illinois General Assembly called attention to the important role of the aquifer to communities in east-central Illinois and assembled the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force. Made up of legislators, mayors, industry representatives, public health officials, Illinois emergency management personnel and more, the task force was created to develop plans to ensure the long-term protection and quality of the aquifer and to mitigate any potential contamination threats.
Roadcap shared the work of ISWS and PRI in monitoring and mitigating threats to the Mahomet Aquifer and best practices to protect the water quality and resources across Illinois. View the full presentation here.
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