We Have to Watch What – and Who – We Put in the Ground

commentary editorial opinion

Around six years ago, I was sitting at a County Board committee meeting, ready to go into a smaller room for the next one.
A guy from the Land Use Department strongly suggested I stick around for the next meeting coming up in the County Board room.
Will County Stormwater Management Planning Committee?? That doesn’t sound too interesting.
Oh, it was. What was said there that day changed my mind about what I put into the soil and what others should as well.
Thankfully, when the Illinois State Water Survey made that presentation to the full County Board, as well as Joliet and other communities, they took it seriously.
They might have blown it off, with longtimers around here used to hearing, “We’re running out of water fast.” I heard it some 30 years ago or more. Then it died out.
The talk died out then, Water Survey peeps said, because the critical area for a water shortage was centered in DuPage County. That area diverted potential disaster by many of its communities hooking up to Lake Michigan water.
Us? We were fine. Until we weren’t.
The building boom of the ‘90s brought not only more need for potable water, but all those new roads and sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, blocked the rain from refilling the aquifers that supply our drinking water around here.
Except in the far east area of Will County, where there still is much farmland. So far.
Water Survey officials said we could be out of drinking water around here by 2030. It would have been sooner, they added, but the recession from 2008 on slowed housing enough to give us a little breathing room.
Jump ahead, and now Joliet is getting Lake Michigan water, and will share it with a handful of surrounding communities where officials decided to go in on a water commission. The rates they pay to Joliet will help offset the cost to Joliet residents.
As an aside, being a Joliet resident, I can say the quick, yet very thorough action on Lake Michigan water was one of the very few items the City of Joliet was able to accomplish in the last eight years or so. I credit Allison Swisher, Director of Public Utilities, with spearheading that effort behind the scenes.
If all that weren’t enough, I learned something else that day six years ago when the Water Survey officials showed charts of our aquifers and how easy it is, even with all the construction covering the ground, for various nasty stuff to get into our drinking water.
Whatever we put on our lawns, fields or any other open areas, ultimately will wind up in drinking water supplies, whether they be wells or rivers, even lakes. If your drinking water supply has some type of treatment system, things should be OK, in most cases.
I don’t use any type of synthetic fertilizer anymore for grass or our garden. We compost. In fact, our friend, Joan O’Keefe, former Environmental Educator for Will County Land Use, came out and measured the temp of our compost one day. Said it was the highest she had seen.
That’s a good thing. Made my day. Week, even. Got my own compost thermometer for Christmas, too.
Now, Will County officials are taking a look at something else we put in the ground: people. Specifically, dead people.
The issue of The Muslim Cemetery putting in a burial ground on 40 acres in Homer Township without needed a permit (See my story on Page 1), has people concerned about groundwater there.
Muslims are among those who do not use caskets, vaults or formaldehyde for burials. They basically use a sheet.
If you look up eco-friendly burials, you will see other such options, including having yourself specially prepared and buried, with a tree planted on top of you to nourish the sapling.
Whether someone is buried in a religious/eco-friendly way, or with a concrete vault, metal casket and pumped with preservatives, the state, county and local municipalities have no regulations regarding groundwater or soil testing in and around cemeteries.
While my Realtor friend Jeff Gregory (“If he can’t find you a home, you don’t need one!”) said he never has had an issue selling a home near a cemetery, it is weird there are no regulations about testing.
Sean Connors, Director of Environmental Health Services for the Will County Health Department, told me he’s not aware of any health issues arising (sorry) from cemetery contamination.
You can look at that two ways, he added: Either there is no issue, or no one’s made the connection.
It’ll be interesting to see with all of this if there is one.



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