Quality & Monitoring

Water supplies are the keystone to our quality of life and vibrant economy.  It is important to use it wisely and to protect its safety for human contact.   

As noted in the Groundwater section, it is difficult to know what the water levels are in the aquifers, and how much they “recharge” or refill after rain and snow events.  Well owners quickly know when their wells give them poor water quality, or none at all.   Whether drilling a new, deeper well is a good investment is often less clear.  

To address these and other supply issues, the Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) invested in a network of monitoring wells.  McHenry County and the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) also monitor wells, in the ISWS case, in several areas around the state.   In the BACOG area, there are over 7,800 shallow aquifer system wells.  In 2013, BACOG initiated its “Comprehensive Groundwater Monitoring Program.”  The program determined a “baseline” of water levels and will monitor changes and trends over time.  Trends is the key here, as water levels in the monitoring wells will exhibit fluctuations with seasonal water use patterns and precipitation events.  BACOG will focus on the direction and instensity of those water supply patterns.  

Three of the wells have continuously monitoring gauges, and send their data via satellite to the United States Geological Services (USGS) DeKalb office.  These wells are located in South Barrington, North Barrington and Lake Barrington.  Their REAL-TIME data is available here.  There are an additional network of 15 wells which are surveyed annually.  These well are ONLY used for monitoring, as their data would not be accurate if they were actively supplying water.monitored.  Another 52 wells located in 13 municipalities are monitored by those municipalities and their water level elevation data is shared, and included in the interim reports.  For more information, check the BACOG website. 

Municipal wells also share how much of their water is being used, and of course, rainfall data is collected.

The Baseline report pictured on the right can be downloaded HERE.

The report refers to stream gauges in Flint Creek.  The Watershed now has five gauges in Flint Creek.  The gauges not only track water levels, but also  also provide data that can be analyszed to determine the contribution groundwater is making to the streams.  These gauges collect data every 15 minutes, and the data is downloaded to BACOG quarterly.  

Baseline Monitoring Report
Downloading data from one of the stream gauges

These same stream gauges also play a role in assessing the water quality of Flint Creek, assisting in determining salt contamination and total dissolved solids, an EPA indicator of impairment of waterways.  While currently there are no gauges in Spring Creek, at least one is planned..

The 2016 baseline water quality study sampled 30 locations – 25 in the Flint Creek Watersheds and 5 in the Spring Creek Watersheds – and tested for a host of pollutants.   This sampling tested for metals contamination as well as testing for excess nutrients, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, E. coli, dissolved oxygen and other relevant indicators.   It also included data from RiverWatch, which tests for diverse beneficial lifeforms (unfortunately, Flint Creek is at the low end), and data from the Lake County Public Health’s Lake Division’s research on a number of the Flint Creek Watershed’s lakes.  The lake data will be addressed under the Lake Resources tab (under Dollars @Work).  The full report is available here, and the Executive Summary will give readers a good overview.

Flint Creek was high in iron, which occurs naturally in much of our soils, but no other metals that would be evidence of industrial contamination.  Chloride was within standards, but increasing from previous testing.  Salt contamination from winter salting is becoming a serious challenge to the safety of our waterways and drinking water (see the Challenges tab).   While E.coli values are above the 200 colonies/100 milliLiter criteria – the standard for human primary contact, all were well below the 80,000 to 100,000+ colonies/100 milliLiter levels that would cause Health Department concern and follow-up.  Flint Creek’s major issues are phosphorus, total suspended solids (TSS), and total dissolved solids (TDS).  At the point that Spring Creek enters the Fox River, it exceeds goals only on TDS, and only slightly.

The sources of TSS such as sediment found in stormwater runoff and TDS are generally land-disturbing activities, pollutants from the atmosphere, such as air pollution, or surface or streambank erosion.  Sediment particles can bind to other stormwater pollutants, such as nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, or metals, hydrocarbons, pesticides or herbicides, and transport them into receiving streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources.  The sources of nutrients found in stormwater runoff are typically from fertilizer use, pet and animal waste, leaves, grass clippings, sanitary sewer overflows, septic system discharges or failures, and pollutants in the atmosphere.  Hydrocarbons are also found in sediments – generated by vehicle wear, leakage, use of coaltar driveway sealants, chemical spills or improper handling of waste oil and grease.  The source of chlorides found in stormwater runoff are primarily winter sidewalk, driveway, roadway and parking lot de-icing activities, as well as those water softener discharges that flow directly to soils.  Small particles of plastics such as polyester fuzz are now also becoming a concern.

The good news is that we can all take individual actions that help improve our waterways, and keep our drinking water safe.  (See the Home-Owner Strategies tab under Explore & Restore and Dollars@Work for more information.)