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MPC Backs Groundwater Proposal in Sun-Times

MPC Director Ryan Wilson has penned a powerful letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, adding his voice to the growing call to transfer the Joliet Training Area (JTA) to the U.S. Forest Service at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Leaders of Openlands, the Wetlands Initiative, and Sierra Club-Illinois have advocated strongly for the move, arguing its benefits to the local groundwater aquifer and its long-term value to our region’s water goals. Wilson, an expert in and advocate for Stormwater Management and Nature Based Solutions, calls the proposed move “an investment in the health and sustainability of our region.”

The following letter to the editor was authored by MPC Director Ryan Wilson and appeared on January 22nd, 2024 in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Another vote to transfer Joliet Training Area to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

As the recent Joliet water deal demonstrates, Illinois must not continue to take our access to fresh, clean water for granted. For this reason, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) endorses the Jan. 5 op-ed by leaders of Openlands, the Wetlands Initiative, and Sierra Club-Illinois. Their argument underscores that investing in nature through the transfer of the Joliet Training Area (JTA) to the U.S. Forest Service at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is an investment in the health and sustainability of our region.

For 90 years, MPC has championed thoughtful planning and inclusive growth policies that build equity in the environment. Permanent conservation and restoration of JTA is just one of the many actions to establish an equitable, climate-resilient future for Joliet and the Chicago region, but we should not let the scale of collective action cause us to miss this generational opportunity.

How would transfer of the JTA support our region’s access to freshwater? The industrial development that surrounds this vital landscape has propelled the region’s economic growth. However, this growth has also forced Joliet and neighboring communities to face an existential crisis first identified in the 1950s: depletion of local groundwater from the sandstone aquifer below. This crisis led to the creation of the Grand Prairie Water Commission and a 100-year, multi-billion-dollar deal to secure Lake Michigan water from the City of Chicago for the region.

While that deal is an important fix for Joliet, it does little to address the underlying problem for the region: groundwater that once bubbled from the surface has been depleted far beyond sustainable levels, in some areas to more than 800 feet below the surface. Action by Congress to steward the transfer of this land to Midewin reinforces the efforts of local leaders who have worked so hard to keep the taps flowing. 

MPC urges Congress to support sustainable growth of the region and transfer the JTA to the U.S. Forest Service at Midewin. It’s easy to forget after two federally declared flood disasters struck the region last year, that Illinois started the summer with widespread drought conditions. With projected temperature increases, every investment we make in nature-based climate solutions, gets us closer to reaching the goal of ensuring equitable access to clean water and realizing a climate-resilient future.

Ryan Wilson, Director, Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago