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Illinois State Water Survey News: September 2020

The Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) conducts state-of-the-art research and collects, analyzes, archives, and disseminates high-quality, objective data and technical information, providing a sound technical basis for the citizens and policymakers of Illinois to make decisions. ISWS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI).

wind farm

The Midwest is a particularly promising region for future wind energy development out to 2100 when accounting for climate change, according to a new Water Survey study.

Program spotlight

Every week the U.S. Drought Monitor releases a map showing which parts of the country are experiencing drought. Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford coordinates the Illinois drought advisory team, which helps interpret drought indicators for Illinois and provides on-the-ground expertise. 

The Water Survey website provides extensive information and data on Illinois drought, from historic drought data to an assessment of how vulnerable the state's water supply systems are to drought.

dry, cracked dirt
Featured project
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tapped the expertise of the Illinois State Water Survey for updates to the climate model projections for its Atlas 14, which serves as the benchmark for precipitation frequency values across the United States.

Recently funded projects
  • Developing National Soil Moisture Products to Improve Drought Monitoring, Phase 2 (PI Trent Ford): The primary goal of this project is to continue the development of national-scale in situ soil moisture information for multiple diverse applications across the contiguous U.S. This includes efforts to expand and improve soil moisture information for forest and rangeland areas, improve uncertainty quantification for soil moisture products, and develop soil moisture-based early warning for flash drought in the Midwest. Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Groundwater-Level Monitoring in McLean, Tazewell, and Logan Counties (PI Daniel Abrams): ISWS will monitor the water levels in observation wells in order to provide a record of groundwater fluctuations in the aquifers west of Bloomington-Normal. Funded by the Town of Normal, City of Bloomington, and Northern Logan County Water Authority
  • Hydrologic, Sediment and Nutrient Monitoring for the Illinois Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)-Illinois and Kaskaskia River Basins (PIs Erin Bauer, Laura Keefer, and Kip Stevenson): ISWS established a monitoring network for the Illinois River Basin in 1999 and for the Kaskaskia River Basin in 2013. These networks collect hydrologic, sediment, and nutrient data for selected subwatersheds. Continuing to monitor these subwatersheds supports two goals of the Illinois Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP): Goal 1a) reduce the amount of silt and sedimentation entering the main stem of the Illinois and the Kaskaskia Rivers and Goal 1b) reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the Illinois River and Kaskaskia River. Funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
  • Toward an Improved Understanding of Rapid Transitions in Precipitation Extremes and Risk Assessment for the Midwest (PI Trent Ford): The primary goal of this project is to improve our understanding of rapid transitions between drought and flood in the Midwest, how often they occur, and what causes them. Toward that end, this project will identify and characterize Midwest rapid drought-to-flood and flood-to-drought transitions in the historical record, determine the atmospheric drivers of such rapid transition events, and evaluate the predictability of these events on subseasonal-to-seasonal timescales. Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
corn field
Focus on data

The Water Survey growing degree day (GDD) calculator is updated daily through local weather stations for users to calculate projections on crop development and maturity specifically for their location.

 physical model in which vertical rods extending from a map show the change of groundwater levels in the Joliet, Illinois, area

The Water Survey has been a leader in groundwater science since its inception in 1895. Water Survey staff have developed innovative ways to analyze and visualize data, from painstakingly soldered flow models using electricity, to digital flow models like the widely used Prickett-Lonnquist Aquifer Simulation Model (PLASM), to more recent interactive maps and a new approach to developing potentiometric surfaces using MODFLOW. Learn more about the past, present, and future of the Water Survey's groundwater data innovation in this StoryMap.

Staff spotlight
Travis Ashby, climatology programmer

Travis Ashby, a climatology programmer with the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, recently answered a few questions about his career.

Illinois State Water Survey 2020 Annual Research Report
Notable reports & publications

This year, the Illinois State Water Survey marks its 125th anniversary of advancing water, weather, and climate science. Our scientific research and service programs continue to anticipate and react to critical issues related to the quality, quantity, and use of ground, surface, and atmospheric water resources. 

The Water Survey's 2020 annual research report highlights key work in the three research focus areas where the survey's expertise, data, and continued effort can deliver significant impact in Illinois and beyond:

  • Community resiliency to risks such as heat waves, droughts, flash floods, and severe storms.
  • Nutrient and sediment transport and the impact on Illinois’ water quality and supply, habitat, land use, and economy.
  • Regional climate and green energy, specifically better understanding of how the changing climate will impact sources of renewable energy and providing more accurate predictions of the benefits and length of service of renewable energy investments.

Download the Water Survey's 2020 research highlights report

Other news
ISWS virtual events

Oct. 7: WaterOperator: Advanced tips & tricks for social media
Oct. 11: Funding/financing options for private well owners
Nov. 10: WaterOperator: Essential resources for primacy staff
Nov. 12: What real estate professionals need to know about homes with well water
Dec. 3: How to find local well information and help

Steve Hollinger of ISWS making adjustments to insect collector
Historical highlight

In 1990, the Water Survey flew a helicopter equipped with insect traps over central Illinois to capture corn leaf aphids. The flights were part of a project studying how weather governs the migratory behavior of the corn leaf aphid, which carries viruses that can cause major crop losses. In this August 1990 photo, Steve Hollinger of the Water Survey, center, Scott Isard of the University of Illinois Geography Department, and pilot Rick Jachowske make adjustments to the insect-collection equipment before a flight. Read more about the aphid research in this 1990 Water Survey article


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