During the Great Depression (1929–about 1939), the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) was approved to work on a project under the Civil Works Administration (CWA) that would not only hire people but would also expand the understanding of Illinois waters. The project, instituted in 1933, had two components: field work and chemical analytical work. Field work included collecting water samples and talking to well owners about their wells to document well locations, well depth, and other well information. Most of the hires were field engineers who worked hard to complete this task, with two or three engineers per county (217 total). Chemical analytical work was completed at the ISWS and involved testing the water for hardness, residue, and additional constituents.
The ISWS knew that it would be impossible to have a complete and thorough collection of information because there were so many private wells in the state, so they developed a policy to collect two well reports per square mile and at least 10 water samples per county.
The project took only 3.5 months. In the end, the survey had added 48,900 well records and analyzed about 1,250 water samples. The field engineers were able to survey 100 counties, all except for Cook and Lake counties. About 34% of the combined areas of 100 counties were surveyed. A report titled A Survey of the Ground-water Resources of Illinois was created detailing the project (Gerber et al., 1935).
These well records still exist in the Groundwater Records Room at the ISWS. As ISWS scientists review the records while filling requests for data or identifying well records for homeowners, interesting information is being brought to light. For example, in the early 1930s a recorder found a 135-foot hand-dug well in Schuyler County, the deepest known hand-dug well in Illinois.
During a project to sample private wells for nitrate and coliform bacteria near Valmeyer, Illinois, after flooding in 1993, ISWS scientists shared copies of some of these old well records with residents attending a public meeting about the proposed sampling. Two residents in the audience, who were farmers in the area, discovered that the recorder who had signed many of the records in 1935 when the well survey was completed was their grandfather, a fact they previously were unaware of. They were provided with copies of the logs after the meeting.
Gerber et al. (1935) provides summaries of the wells found and chemical water quality for each of the 100 counties surveyed.
Gerber, W. D., McClure, S. M., Tarvin, D., & Buswell, A. M. (1935). A Survey of the Ground-water Resources of Illinois. Illinois State Water Survey. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/94499