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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.

Partner Interview with Janet Agnoletti, BACOG

The Private Well Class recognizes partners who have exceptional local and community programs. Janet Agnoletti and the Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) in Illinois have developed a strong network with partners, useful strategies, and overcome challenges.

 

We interviewed Janet to gain insight on the inner workings of a community program and how they strive to attain success in their goals and objectives.


Q:  Can you tell me a little bit of your position, background, and what your role is at BACOG?

JA: I am the Executive Director of BACOG, and I started in this position in 2000. I have a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Illinois Institute of Technology. I worked as a planner for the City of Evanston in my early career and then as a consultant to a number of suburban communities and not-for-profits. My interests have always included environmental issues – which are a critical consideration in regional land planning..

Q:  Can you talk a little about what BACOG is and what it does in respect to water resource initiatives?

JA: The Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) was formed in 1970, and it is a regional planning organization comprised of local government members in the northwest suburban area (of Chicago). The organization addresses: planning, development and land use issues; environmental matters including groundwater; legislative advocacy; regional emergency preparedness; training, workshops and networking for members; and intergovernmental collaboration and communications. 

I started the groundwater initiative in 2001; while most natural resources had been extensively studied in the early decades of BACOG, there was little information about groundwater. In the BACOG region of approximately 80-90 square miles, the vast majority of wells – maybe 99% -- are finished in the shallow aquifer system. There are over 7,800 wells here, most of which are private residential wells. With one exception, all the municipal wells are in the shallow aquifer system too. So my goal in 2001 was to study this resource, to identify where the water is, how much there is, what its quality is, and if it is sustainable. We have accomplished a great deal of this work and more.

Q:  Who is BACOG’s primary audience?

JA: The municipal and township members of BACOG guide, support, adopt and participate in BACOG’s programs. As a group of regional governments, they can do more research and programming, and do it more cost-efficiently, than if each government acted independently. They do this on behalf of the residents of the entire region. BACOG’s programs benefit our government members with data, tools, advocacy and innovations, for instance, and some of 

BACOG’s programs directly benefit residents of the area such as BACOG’s private well water testing. Our recent project, the groundwater video for elementary school students, benefits children as well.

Q:  What sort of programs does BACOG offer to well owners/members in the community?

JA: BACOG offers private well water testing, a Level 1 program for bacteria and nitrates and a Level 2 program for natural water quality. We work in partnership with Lake County Health Department for Level 1, and with Illinois State Water Survey laboratory for Level 2. 

At each Level 1 event, we provide education in the form of resources, materials, and groundwater experts to answer questions to residents who participate. We also provide education through a presentation by experts at every water testing event, and from time-to-time at special groundwater programs for the public. During the year, BACOG provides educational materials to the public, both directly and through newsletter and website articles for our members to share. Materials are always available at events and the BACOG office about aquifers, groundwater, well and septic maintenance, bacteria in water systems, etc. BACOG has developed four brochures to date on water topics that are widely distributed. 

Our recent groundwater video project offers the video, a “Skype with a Scientist” session following the video viewing, and maps and materials for use in the classroom, including loan of a custom-built aquifer model (sand, gravel, water) for teachers to demonstrate in the classroom. The video includes information about wells, septic systems and aquifers.

Watch the video below:


Q:  What sort of outreach approaches does BACOG utilize and how are you doing that outreach?

JA: We advertise and promote our testing programs widely in the community, in press releases and articles that are sent to the news media, in newsletter articles and announcements that are used by our member governments in their publications and websites, and through cooperative local organizations and businesses distributing materials for us. 

BACOG has a Water Resources Committee that is comprised of representatives from every member government and from regional conservation organizations, and individuals who are interested and bring environmental/other expertise to the study of water. Their involvement provides another avenue for promotion of BACOG activities to their own residents, members and neighbors. 

The WRC also has six “member advisors” who are professionals primarily from the State Water and Geological Surveys, who provide advice to me as I develop new programs for our region. We share data collected here with the Surveys.

Q:  In your opinion, what type of program/outreach approach to well owners has been the most successful and why?

JA: When BACOG first unveiled its aquifer study and mapping project, community members were not as interested in the hydrogeology of the local groundwater source as they were in the region’s (and their own) groundwater quality. So I refocused our educational efforts to the questions we heard most, and that was the impetus for creating the private well water testing program. 

It has been a great success, and we attract 350-400 households to each test event and in the process share a great deal of information and materials about wells, septic systems, the local aquifers and hydrogeology, maintenance and repair, water quality and treatment systems, salting techniques, the BACOG water levels monitoring program, etc. We pique their interest with the testing, and we inundate them with education! 

I did a little analysis with Lake County Health Department last year, where we showed that BACOG-area residents were testing their well water at the county at a rate over 600% greater than before we started the BACOG program. I know that the fact that BACOG has provided the testing program, educational resources, promotion through the media and our governments, projects like the new video, and a consistent positive message about groundwater has made a big difference. People better understand the need to be informed about and protective of their own regional water resource.

Q:  Do you work with any local/state/federal partners and how have those partners helped BACOG’s goals and objectives?

JA: BACOG is fortunate to have worked with the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the U.S. Geological Survey in one capacity or another over the years. We also have worked with Lake County Health Department professional staff for information, educational assistance, input, speakers and partnership. We continue to work with a private hydrogeologist who was instrumental in designing programs and advising on water supply, quality and sustainability since 2001. 

  • Our hydrogeologist from KOT Environmental Consulting contributed many hours of work and advice to designing and creating the aquifer study and mapping project, the groundwater recharge map, and other groundwater programs.  
  • Lake County Health Department has been a tremendous resource (and WRC member) in providing statistical data, education, and other input to BACOG’s programs. 
  • The Surveys’ professional staff input and advice to our programs has been invaluable, and they have provided speakers for community events and to the Executive Board in support of BACOG projects. 
  • The ISGS developed 18 new monitoring wells in the BACOG area about 10 years ago with support and assistance from our staff and government members, and we now use those wells for annual water level measurements under our monitoring program. In years that BACOG could not take measurements in those wells, the USGS provided staff to do so.
  • The ISWS included wells in the BACOG area in its Kane County study, which provided a baseline of water levels for 2003. 
  • The partnership with ISWS for the BACOG Level 2 water quality testing makes our program credible, easy and affordable to residents, and the same is true of the Level 1 partnership with Lake County. 

Additionally, our WRC representatives from organizations such as Citizens for Conservation, the Barrington Area Development Council, the Garden Clubs Council, the Barrington Rotary, and companies such as Angel Water Inc. and Baxter Woodman Engineers have provided invaluable service and work in support of BACOG programs. A few of BACOG’s goals are: to better understand and inform the public about the shallow aquifer system, our primary source of water; to develop data-based information about aquifer water supply and quality; to provide tools and programs that will help protect groundwater supply and quality; and to help residents keep their private well water safe and clean.


Q:  What is the largest challenge for BACOG and how have you been addressing that challenge?

JA: Probably the biggest challenge is funding, which has not been available from state or federal sources for groundwater programs. BACOG programs have been entirely funded by our local government members. One recent exception is the granting of electronic equipment from USGS for three wells in the aquifer water level monitoring program. Other than this, all BACOG’s groundwater programs have been member-funded since inception of the initiative in 2001, despite best efforts to obtain outside grant funds. 


To learn more about BACOG's current and continuing efforts, you can visit their website at: 
BACOG (Barrington Area Council of Governments)