Next Generation Water Observing System: Illinois River Basin

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The Next Generation Water Observing System provides high-fidelity, real-time data on water quantity, quality, and use to support modern water prediction and decision-support systems that are necessary for informing water operations on a daily basis and decision-making during water emergencies. The Illinois River Basin provides an opportunity to implement the NGWOS in a system challenged by an overabundance of nutrients—primarily nitrogen and phosphorus—and associated harmful algal blooms.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is planning to intensively study ten Integrated Water Science (IWS) basins—medium-sized watersheds (10,000-20,000 square miles) and underlying aquifers—throughout the United States over the coming decade to improve understanding of water availability in a wide range of environmental, hydrologic, and landscape settings. Each IWS basin will be representative of a larger region, and high-density monitoring and cutting-edge research will be used to better understand and model factors affecting water availability (quantity, quality, and use) in the basins, the larger regions, and the Nation. 

Map of the Illinois River Basin

The USGS will be installing new monitoring equipment and enhancing existing streamgages in the Illinois River Basin beginning in 2022, subject to availability of funding.

The USGS has selected the Illinois River Basin as the third IWS basin; the first two IWS basins are the Delaware River Basin and the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Illinois River Basin consists of extensive urban and agricultural land uses that can help improve understanding of how nutrient sources, in combination with climate and land-use change, may limit water availability. The USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) will provide the high temporal and spatial resolution data on streamflow, evapotranspiration, snowpack, soil moisture, water quality, groundwater/surface-water connections, stream velocity distribution, sediment transport, and water use that are necessary to advance this understanding.

Over the course of 2021, the USGS will begin broad internal and external stakeholder engagement to help develop a science and monitoring plan for the Illinois River Basin, a plan that will guide USGS IWS activities in the basin over the coming years, dependent upon appropriations.

"The National Weather Service has a long history of collaboration and partnership with the USGS, and we look forward to exploring the full utility and operational benefit of the new observational capabilities made available through the Next Generation Water Observing System."
- Tom Graziano, Director of the National Weather Service, Office of Water Prediction 


Water Resources Challenges in the Illinois River Basin
The Illinois River Basin has intense urban population in its upper reaches and very low population and intense agriculture and irrigation in the remaining area. Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) occurrences are commonplace, and the basin is estimated to be one of the largest geographic sources of nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico. Water quantity is an important issue within the Illinois River Basin as well. While the region is experiencing increased precipitation, current land practices of accelerating drainage combined with a growing demand for water could limit the quantity of water available for human and biota uses. 

“The integrated water science [in the Illinois River Basin] can help us understand why Illinois continues to face increasing phosphorus runoff, even with the implementation of conservation practices across the state.”
- Chris Wieberg, Chair of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) Water Quality Executive Committee


NGWOS Characteristics

  • State-of-the-art measurements
  • Dense array of sensors at selected sites
  • Increased spatial and temporal data coverage of all primary components of the hydrologic cycle
  • New monitoring technology testing and implementation
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Modernized and timely data storage and delivery