Unites States Geological Survey – Illinois Water Science Center  1201 W University Av  Urbana IL 61801 217-328-9706 http://il.water.usgs.gov/

The Illinois Water Science Center is a branch of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that focuses on collecting and providing information about water resources including surface water, groundwater, water quality, and water issues. One of the primary goals of the center is to collect data using the 180 gage stations that collect stream-flow and water quality data. The organization is based in Champaign and has satellite locations in Dekalb and Mt. Vernon. A major priority for the center is to serve data up as quickly as possible, especially in times of crisis.

The center provides data and information to users including federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; state agencies, such as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency; and local users and the public. The organization’s use of technology is extensive and complex. Since their objective is to provide water data to help protect people, the environment, and structures, and half of their program in Illinois is just data collection, they have a significant amount of real-time water data streaming in and out of the center.


A complete history of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) can be found on their website at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/c1050/index.htm. The information below was gleaned from this site. The USGS was created on March 3rd, 1879 with 38 employees. Clarence King was the first director of the agency; his first job was to classify the more than 1.2 billion acres of land to which the federal government had title. At that point only 200 million of those acres had been surveyed. In addition, the country’s “mineral wealth, mining and metallurgical techniques, and production statistics [were] meager,” and so King highlighted mining geology and to a lesser extent general geology. However, by 1882, “topographic mapping became the largest part of the Geological Survey program.”

In 1894 the agency expanded to begin the study of water and when the Forest Management Act was passed in 1897, USGS began managing the surveying of forest reserves. By 1904 the agency had created topographical maps of 26% of the country and published geologic folios that had helped encourage the development of water power (among other things). When Federal Water Power Act was passed in 1920, the Survey became responsible for streamflow records and for assessing projects proposed on public lands. In the early 1920s, it was determined that more than 60% of the country was still unmapped, and most of what had been mapped needed to be resurveyed. By 1929, the agency had grown to 998 employees, had mapped 44% of the country, and 2,238 gaging stations were measuring streamflow. By 1954 the Survey had 7,000 employees, technology for mapping was improving drastically, 6,400 gaging stations were measuring streamflow, and the organization was running approximately 500 studies of groundwater. The Survey was also measuring (among other things) water quality and flood frequency.

In 1964 USGS established an Office of Water Coordination which combine the Surface Water, Ground Water and Quality of Water Branches to speak to a new responsibility from the Department of the Interior for the organization: “design and operation of the national network for collection of water data so that water information needed for effective development and management of water resources would be collected in a timely, effective, and economical fashion, and would be readily accessible at a single focal point.” By 1971, the Survey had 9,200 employees, mapping was happening in all 50 states, 11,000 gaging stations were measuring streamflow, 4,000 stations were measuring water quality, and hundreds of groundwater investigations were underway.

In 1984, the Water Resources Division published the first “National Water Summary, “describing hydrologic events and water conditions for the water year, providing a State-by-State overview of specific water-related issues, and identifying ground-water contamination and acid rain as two pressing water-resources issues.”

The Illinois Water Science Center (WSC) is one of 48 Water Science Centers in the USGS Water Resources Discipline. According to our interview, the center in Illinois was established in the 1930s to support the state mapping that was happening at the time.

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