A Watershed Moment

Reforming the "Reasonable Usage" Standard of Water Extraction Rights in Illinois

In the coming decades, Illinois’s government will be called upon to solve serious water-management issues. At the same time that demand for water is projected to increase, government agencies predict that lower rainfall and present overuse will lead to a lower water supply. Securing and stabilizing the water supply under such conditions will be extremely difficult absent substantial reforms. To put itself in the best position to address these challenges, Illinois must reform its laws governing the extraction of both surface water and groundwater.

This Note argues that Illinois’s current water-usage statutes are ill-equipped to deal with current and future problems created by increased demand and decreased supply. It examines statutory schemes enacted by other states to sketch a comprehensive plan for reforming Illinois’s water-extraction laws. Specifically, it looks at states that are hydrologically similar to Illinois by virtue of their proximity to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. It compares and contrasts these varying approaches and discusses their relative strengths and weaknesses. Finally, it recommends a permitting scheme that declares all water to be property of the public and provides that, where there is conflict between industrial and residential users, preference should be given to human consumption.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.