Uncertainty in At-Risk Water Supplies of Northeast Illinois: Participatory groundwater models for future water-supply scenarios

Authors: Trevor Birkenholtz*, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Devin Mannix, Illinois State Water Survey
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography
Keywords: groundwater modeling, finance, hydrogeology, infrastructure
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Uncertainty abounds in the field of groundwater hydrogeological modelling and groundwater-based municipal water-supply and governance. This include knowledge production about: hydrogeology; groundwater flow, quantity and quality; groundwater modeling parameterization and interpretation; projected trajectories of urban development; and availability, source and modalities of financed infrastructural investment. In this paper, we draw on recent work at the intersection of participatory groundwater modeling and uncertainty to examine the relationship between uncertainty, socioecological risk and planning in municipal groundwater development and infrastructural investment. Drawing on a case-study of McHenry County in northern suburban Chicago, we ask: How do groundwater hydrogeologists communicate model uncertainty to policymakers? And then how do policymakers interpret this uncertainly and create policy, particularly around new investments in water-supply infrastructure? McHenry county has a large number of groundwater users including municipal, industrial, and private. With shallow supplies increasingly contaminated by road salt, some users have been shifting to deeper bedrock aquifers, where initial groundwater simulations of this system indicate depletion risk by 2040-50. As water-users navigate their future supply options, they have turned again to groundwater models to help manage supply decisions during these transitions. However, previous modeling efforts have been met with mixed reception owing in part to the challenges of incorporating and communicating uncertainty in future simulations, leading to largely reactive responses to water supply problems. We explore new research in participatory groundwater modeling to engage water-supply planning groups across the region to reduce uncertainty through co-production of groundwater knowledge and future water-supply scenarios.

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