An Overview of Water Law in Illinois
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An Overview of Water Law in Illinois

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    The law regulating the diversion and use of freshwater in Illinois is complex. This complexity is due to a mix of court-created common law with statutory and regulatory law for both surface and groundwater in the state. Most surface water diversions in the state are regulated by the common law reasonable use doctrine. However, diversions from Lake Michigan are regulated by Supreme Court of the United States decrees, the Illinois Level of Lake Michigan Act, and the Great Lakes Compact. Similarly, the Illinois Water Use Act subjects all groundwater diversions in the state to a reasonable use rule. However, courts and commentators have interpreted the statute to mean that the surface water doctrine of reasonable use applies to groundwater in the state, and not the common law groundwater reasonable use doctrine. This is significant, as there are important differences between the reasonable use doctrines for surface water and groundwater. Further complicating things is the fact that the Illinois Supreme Court has yet to rule on this point. Finally, some geographic areas of Illinois are exempt from certain portions of the Water Use Act. Each of these nuances is discussed.
  • Sea Grant Document Number:
    NSGLC-G-20-005
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    Public Domain
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