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Experts: Don’t take water supply for granted

This article originally appeared in the Southern Illinoisan.

CARBONDALE – Parts of Illinois have passed a tipping point where demand for water will continue to grow exponentially compared to supply, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor said Tuesday.

Ben Dziegielewski, a professor of water resources and former executive director of the International Water Resources Association, said northeastern and east central Illinois are experiencing pressure on their water supplies.

"We already have some problems," he said, referencing the state as a whole. "We have some areas where rapid population growth and economic development make water supply difficult."

Dziegielewski joined other water resource experts for a panel discussion titled "We All Live Downstream: Whose Water Is It?" on Tuesday at SIUC. The event was part of a series sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council.

SIUC has played a role in state research, as it conducted a water supply study in 11 northeastern counties in 2006, at the request of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the state Department of Natural Resources, Dziegielewski said.

The study found water withdrawals in that area are likely to increase by between 36 and 64 percent by 2050, while supply will experience much slower growth, he said. Climate change may cause an added 8 to 12 percent to withdrawals.

In another study, it was determined east central Illinois would experience similar problems with expected growth between 51 and 69 percent. The issues are not limited to those two regions, Dziegielewski said.

"It can happen elsewhere," he said.

While Dziegielewski focused his presentation on Illinois, panelists stressed issues surrounding water quality and supply have far-reaching effects.

Patti Simon, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, showed a 19-minute video of the documentary "Running Dry," based on Paul Simon’s book "Tapped Out."

Patti Simon, who continued her husband’s work on advocating for clean water for the world after his death, said she learned Tuesday that Congress had approved a $300 million allocation for 2009 to fund the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005.

This money will help to ensure "this basic need becomes a basic right," Patti Simon said.