The rapid expansion of major cities throughout the world is resulting in the degradation of water quality in local aquifers. Increased use of road deicers since the middle of the 20th century in cities in the northern United States, Canada, and Europe has been linked to degraded ground water quality. In this article, Chicago, Illinois, and its outlying suburban areas are used as an example of the effects of urbanization in a historical context. A statistical study of historical water quality data was undertaken to determine how urbanization activities have affected shallow (<60 m) ground water quality. Chloride (Cl−) concentrations have been increasing, particularly in counties west and south of Chicago. In the majority of shallow public supply wells in the western and southern counties, Cl− concentrations have been increasing since the 1960s. About 43% of the wells in these counties have rate increases greater than 1 mg/L/year, and 15% have increases greater than 4 mg/L/year. Approximately 24% of the samples collected from public supply wells in the Chicago area in the 1990s had Cl− concentrations greater than 100 mg/L (35% in the western and southern counties); median values were less than 10 mg/L before 1960. The greater increase in Cl− concentrations in the outer counties is most likely due to both natural and anthropogenic factors, including the presence of more significant and shallower sand and gravel deposits, less curbing of major highways and streets, and less development in some parts of these counties.
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