"If we run out of water, we don’t have a community. Businesses and residents want to know that they have safe, clean drinking water that’s affordable."

—Jennifer Hughes

The Village of Oswego’s first well was dug in 1895. Though small at 14 feet wide and 18 feet deep, it was sufficient to provide water for all who lived there at the time.

More than a century later, Jennifer Hughes was hired as the village’s first-ever staff engineer. With Kendall County experiencing rapid growth, Oswego officials had become concerned about water supply.

“The community started the water system and left it to us. We want to make sure, when we turn it over to the next generation, that it’s in good shape,” said Hughes, who is public works director for the village that in 1990 was home to less than 4,000 residents. In 2015, Oswego’s population had grown to 32,500 people and is projected to keep growing by 2050.

Oswego, like its neighbors Montgomery and Yorkville, still relies on groundwater sources for their drinking water supply. But the region is withdrawing groundwater faster than it can be replenished.

“It’s a really critical issue for us. If we run out of water, we don’t have a community,” Hughes said. “Businesses and residents want to know that they have safe, clean drinking water that’s affordable.”

While sufficient water supply is projected for several more decades in groundwater-dependent communities like Oswego, Hughes said we can’t ignore the issue.

“People don’t want to pay for something today that they may not use for 20 years. The idea of running out of water is this nebulous idea that seems so far out in the future that it can be difficult to motivate people to action,” she said. But examples of water shortages elsewhere in the U.S. indicate we should be proactive.

That’s why Oswego and its neighbors, with support by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s (CMAP) Local Technical Assistance Program, have been studying options that include governance of a shared water treatment plant. Officials know that whatever decision they make — whether connecting to the Fox River, Lake Michigan, or another source — will be time consuming and expensive.

“We want to make sure we do our homework before we go to the residents,” Hughes said. “It’s really important to realize we’re all in this together. We have a lot more in common than the borders that may define us, so we need to continue to draw on the talents of each community to find the answer.”

“I hope by 2050 we’ve left a legacy of a sustainable water source, a sustainable region that has embraced the challenges of the future and has set itself up to a vibrant, dynamic, great place to live,” she said.