DECATUR — Archer Daniels Midland Co. is working to complete initiatives to more effectively manage its use of water in response to the drought that has affected Central Illinois in recent years.

Of the 20 million gallons the agricultural processing company uses on average in Decatur each day, it aims to reuse 5 million gallons of treated wastewater, said Mark Carroll, ADM water resource engineer.

The drought has led it to examine the potential need to increase that number, Carroll said Friday during the East Central Illinois Regional Water Stakeholders’ Conference at the University of Illinois Extension Macon County office. The conference was held as part of the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Regional Water Supply Planning Committee process.

“We’re making future precautions and looking for ways to protect ADM operations and the city’s supply source,” Carroll said. “We have started working very closely with the city on how to manage the situation.”

ADM’s state-of-the-art process enables it to recirculate 5 million to 7 million gallons within its facility that never reaches the water treatment plant it operates, Carroll said.

The company hopes to be able to reuse another half million gallons of water by the end of the year, he said.

“We’re constantly trying to up that number,” Carroll said.

Additionally, two collector wells under construction are almost finished, but Carroll said the wells would not operate except in further drought conditions. ADM could draw up to 7 million gallons per day from the emergency wells, Carroll said.

As the water level dropped in Lake Decatur last year, ADM and city officials realized reductions were needed in the amount of water being drawn from the lake. ADM uses the most water from the lake.

ADM is among the many groups across the region making changes in response to the drought as lower water levels in surface and groundwater sources have officials concerned.

Geologists are trying to figure out the reasons behind the drop in water levels in order to determine the possible impact for the future. The drought has provided researchers such as George Roadcap of the Illinois State Water Survey an opportunity to further look at how streams and groundwater behave.

The Sangamon River near Monticello dried up for 40 days last summer, Roadcap said. It was flowing again during the winter, but last year marked only the second recorded time the river has gone dry, he said.

The last time was for seven days in 1988, Roadcap said.

Water supply’s importance to an area’s ability to attract and retain businesses was noted.

“In Illinois, the landscape is completely different than it was a few years ago,” said Craig Cummings, city of Bloomington water director. “We had plenty of surface and groundwater. Those things have changed dramatically.”

Businesses don’t want uncertainty, so Cummings said being able to provide them information about a city’s ability to supply water is important.

In some cases, the response involves making tough decisions, such as the city of Decatur did earlier this year in raising water rates. The city has had to respond to more water being used than in previous times when the population was greater, Decatur water director Keith Alexander said.

With a population of about 76,000 people in Decatur, Alexander said water pulled from Lake Decatur was 43 million gallons per day during the drought. On a typical day, about 35 million gallons are taken from the lake, he said.

That compares with 40 million gallons used during the drought of 1988, when the population was 84,000, Alexander said.

“We’re using more water than ever before,” Alexander said. “Water rates are lower than they should have been. Reality has finally caught up to us.”

Municipalities are exploring ways to more effectively use water. Utilizing wastewater isn’t as viable as it might appear, said Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District.

Wastewater could be delivered to a proposed fertilizer plant in Tuscola, but Manner said the cost keeps the idea from being mentioned more frequently in other development discussions. Construction costs for a pipeline would be at least $10 million, Manner said.

“I’m not expecting to have similar conversations for a while,” he added.

Recycling rainwater also is unlikely to become widespread, Manner said. The best thing that can be done to protect the water supply is reducing the amount that is wasted, which pays for itself and has environmental benefits, he said.

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