This year's Outstanding Collaboration Award honors the coordinated efforts of two interdisciplinary teams that formed to respond to signficant public issues: the Mahomet Aquifer Response Team and Natural Gas Working Group. Members of the two groups are Trish Barker (PRI), Steven Brown (ISGS), Sallie Greenberg (ISGS), Anne Huber (ISGS), Walton Kelly (ISWS), Hannes Leetaru (ISGS), Randall Locke (ISGS), Kisa Mwakanyamale (ISGS), George Roadcap (ISWS), Andrew Stumpf (ISGS), Jason Thomason (ISGS), Steven Whittaker (ISGS), Richard Winkel, Jr. (PRI), and Mark Yacucci (ISGS).
The Mahomet aquifer provides hundreds of millions of gallons of water every day to nearly 1 million people in East Central Illinois for residential, industrial, and agricultural uses. Protection and management of this groundwater resource is critical to maintain and grow the region’s economy. While there has long been significant public interest in the aquifer, two things brought concerns about the aquifer to the fore in 2018.
First, a a leak occurred at a natural gas storage facility near Fisher, Illinois, impacting several homeowners' wells and raising concerns about whether the leak could impact the aquifer. Second, a Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force was established by the Illinois General Assembly. The task force was charged with developing a state plan to maintain the groundwater quality of the Mahomet aquifer; identifying current and potential contamination threats to the water quality of the Mahomet aquifer; identifying actions that might be taken to ensure the long-term protection of the Mahomet aquifer; and making legislative recommendations for the protection of the Mahomet aquifer. ISWS hydrogeologist George Roadcap was appointed to represent PRI on the task force.
PRI's two response teams worked throughout 2018 to provide objective, reliable information to all stakeholders affected by and involved in response to the natural gas leak, including frequent communication and coordination with the Illinois EPA and Illinois Attorney General's Office. The two groups also produced presentations and documents to assist the task force in its fact-finding and deliberations.
Among the task force’s top recommendations is a call to increase funding to PRI to support the use of helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics (HTEM) technology to more accurately map and characterize the Mahomet aquifer and to deploy state-of-the-art monitoring networks and analytical capabilities to identify emerging contaminants of concern.