Defunding of state water, geology agencies worries county

WOODSTOCK – If there’s one thing that the McHenry County Board should have down pat, it’s writing letters to Gov. Pat Quinn regarding the loss of state funding.

This time, it’s the elimination of funding for agencies that McHenry County has relied on for years as officials develop plans to maintain a sustainable supply of groundwater.

The state hammered out a 2012 budget that did not include funding for the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the Illinois Natural History Survey, county Water Resource Manager Cassandra McKinney told the County Board Natural and Environmental Resources Committee on Thursday.

The Surveys, as they are known collectively, are part of the Prairie Research Institute under the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We rely on that institutional knowledge, and losing that knowledge would be devastating,” McKinney told the committee.

Committee members gave McKinney permission to send a letter to Quinn, signed by County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, asking that the funding be restored.

Unlike other funding issues McHenry County has with the state, such as Quinn’s decision to defund the 44 regional school superintendents’ offices statewide, this one was not borne of a desire to cut the budget. While the House approved the groups’ funding, the Senate decided against allowing transfers to agencies the House supported in the budget bill. The state fiscal year began July 1.

The university is making up the state’s $15.8 million share of the Prairie Research Institute’s funding, in the hopes that the General Assembly will restore it when the fall veto session begins in late October, water survey Director Mike Demissie said.

“Right now we have zero state funding for the whole institute, and the only way we are functioning is because the university is willing to pick up the bill until the veto session, hoping by then it will be fixed,” Demissie said.

That bill is on top of the at least $400 million that the state owes the university in back payments. The state is more than $600 million in arrears to state universities.

McHenry County’s interest in sustainable groundwater supplies began in earnest with reports that predicted shortages in some areas should development continue unabated without any protective measures in place. The county established its water resource manager position and hired McKinney in 2007.

The county’s letter states that the surveys’ advice and technical assistance are invaluable to the county’s water planning initiatives.

“Without a thorough understanding of the geology of the County and State, sound water supply planning would be difficult,” it states. “The groundwater and surface water research areas, in particular, are critical to the sustainability of water resources and economic viability of the state of Illinois; however, it seems as if the worse the water supply challenges become, the less funding there is available to meet those challenges.”

The institute also includes the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

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