January 7, 2016

We have only ourselves (& the Army Corps of Engineers) to blame

Poor river policies wreak havoc on river towns and fragile ecosystems

by Kim Knowles

Governor Bruce Rauner has declared 23 Illinois counties disaster areas due to flood damages. Widespread flooding has shut down businesses, closed roads, forced evacuations, and taken lives as intense winter precipitation caused the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to flood towns in Missouri, Illinois, and other Mississippi River states. While winter flooding of this intensity is unusual, it is not surprising to experts studying trends in the Midwest.

Recent studies have shown that the frequency of flooding in the Midwest has increased and is expected to further intensify (PDF) by mid-century. This is in part due to climate change and the predicted long-term changes in Midwestern weather patterns that show an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation. More storms are expected, and when they come, they are expected to dump more rain.

flooded houses

Photo credit: Washington Post

But the intensification of flooding is also due, in large part, to bad river management. First, according to Robert Criss, PhD of Washington University, who has studied major rivers for decades, both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) are underestimating the risk of flooding by using outdated methods for assessing risk, and outdated flood maps. These agencies may be underestimating flood levels by as much as five feet. An increase in flood levels of this magnitude could cause catastrophic failure of flood protection systems.

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December 31, 2015

2015 Accomplishments

Happy New Year

As we look forward to a new year of protecting Illinois’ rivers and streams, we want to take time to thank our members for their support over the past year. Here are a few accomplishments from 2015 that were made possible because of our generous and committed members.

Clean Water

Defending the clean water act

The U.S. EPA finalized the long-awaited Clean Water Rule, which protects the nation’s smallest, most vulnerable streams and wetlands that give life to our larger river systems. We worked with many groups across the country to support EPA’s efforts to clarify clean water protections.

We helped garner and amplify important voices like small businesses and farmers in support of the Clean Water Rule through our widely popular social media campaign: #4cleanwater. Our “Clean Water is Good for Business” video was featured on the U.S. EPA’s website, and we received national recognition for our campaign leadership and creative video and social media work.

Because a federal court has placed a temporary hold on the rule, we continue to work hard to see that the rule is upheld.

Reducing Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution

Illinois finalized its plan for reducing the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution that clogs our waters with noxious algae, depletes oxygen, and contributes to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Prairie Rivers Network sits on the state’s policy committee to address nutrients and will work for aggressive reduction of this harmful pollution.

Saving Wetlands

Prairie Rivers Network is co-leading a campaign to stop a highly destructive Army Corps project that would devastate fish and wildlife on the Middle Mississippi River and put Illinois river towns at great risk of flooding. The New Madrid levee would destroy more than 50,000 acres of wetlands that provide vital spawning and breeding habitat for fish and wildlife. The campaign has gained support of key leaders like Senator Dick Durbin, and state floodplain experts.

Reducing THE THREAT OF Invasive Species

As part of an advisory group to Congress on Asian carp and other invasive species moving between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, we are advocating for revitalization of the Chicago River as a necessary component of any invasive species solutions. We developed consensus recommendations for Congress to fund robust and aggressive programs to protect against Asian carp now, while we work on long-term solutions for dozens of other invasive species.

Protecting Wildlife Habitat

We successfully coordinated the Middle Illinois River Conservation Collaborative — bringing together conservation entities to acquire, restore, and protect floodplain habitats along the Illinois River. This effort led to the addition of 283 acres to The Wetlands Initiative’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, an acquisition that will restore upland habitats, protect a rare seep, and reduce agricultural pollution on the site.

Healthy Rivers

FIGHTING bad river Management

Navigation practices and outdated infrastructure continue to degrade the health of our largest rivers. With a coalition of regional and national partners, we are advocating for small-scale, non-structural alternatives for navigation as preferable to new locks and dams.

We object to costly and destructive navigation projects while promoting the importance of wetlands and green infrastructure for environmental protection and flood risk reduction.

Energy Water


This April, the U.S. EPA finalized the first-ever regulations for the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash. Years of advocacy—including testifying, organizing, commenting, and, ultimately, bringing a lawsuit—finally forced the U.S. EPA to regulate coal ash dumping and closure requirements for these dumps.


We are working to achieve strong state rules regarding the closure of coal ash dumps in Illinois. Strong state rules are needed to close several gaps left by the federal coal ash rules, and ensure that responsible clean-up and monitoring is required at all of the state’s polluting coal ash dumps.

Expanding Citizen Participation

Responding to calls for fairness and transparency, Illinois DNR is advancing proposed rules that will improve the ability of citizens to participate in coal mining permitting. Expect improved public access to important permit documents, earlier notice of mining plans, and an end to IDNR’s adversarial positions during permit hearings.

thwarting the Bulldog Mine

The proposed Bulldog coal mine in east-central Illinois originally planned to begin mining in January 2014. We worked with residents and advocates to highlight discrepancies and flaws in the mine’s permit applications, which prompted serious review and extensive questioning of the permits. As it stands, the Bulldog mine has not secured either of the permits it needs to begin mining.


December 26, 2015

Please donate today because your gift is need to help protect our environment




Elected Officals-ask 2015

DONATE NOW because the impact of clean water and healthy rivers is real and the importance of your gift is real too!



December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas


December 16, 2015

Ding Dong. The-Witch-is-Dead.

Clean Water Rule saved from wicked attacks in Congress.

Today marks a very important victory in our battle to save EPA’s Clean Water Rule from a phalanx in Congress intent on destroying the rule by any legislative-means necessary. Opponents in Congress failed three times to stop a rule that will provide critical protection to our nation’s most vulnerable streams and wetlands that in turn give life to our larger rivers.

Clean Water kills the Wicked Witch.

Clean Water kills the Wicked Witch.

The attacks on the rule were relentless and you may say wicked, favoring polluters over the 1 in 3 Americans who get their drinking water from the streams protected by the Clean Water Rule.

To develop this rule, EPA held over 400 meetings, reviewed more than 1200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and amended the proposed rule to address the many concerns of big agriculture. The agency received over one million comments on the rule, which it considered before issuing a final rule in May, 2015. None of this was enough for certain congressional delegates.

First, a bill introduced by Senator John Barrasso would have blocked the Clean Water Rule AND narrowed the historical protections of the Clean Water Act itself.

Immediately following the defeat of the Barrasso bill, both chambers of Congress introduced a Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenge. The CRA is an extreme, rarely used tool for blocking federal rules, and is generally used by incoming presidents to overturn rules of the outgoing administration. Although the CRA challenge passed both houses of Congress, proponents did not gain enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Shamelessly, congressional opponents tried again with an anti-Clean Water Rule rider to the omnibus appropriations bills. And we defeated them again! We learned today that Congress agreed upon a spending bill that did not contain any riders attacking the Clean Water Rule. Hooray!

Yet the war to protect America’s rivers and wetlands is far from over. As we wrote previously, the rule faces legal challenges in federal courts across the country, including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to rule shortly on whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case.

But for now, let us take a moment to celebrate. We’ve worked tirelessly to defeat the many challenges thrown at us, and it is a true victory to have defeated them. THANK YOU!  

The Congressional Witch is “really most sincerely dead!”  Sing it high, sing it low.

December 14, 2015

Prairie River Notes – Winter 2015 Newsletter

PRN 2015 Winter Newsletter_Page_1Read Prairie Rivers Network’s PRN 2015 Winter Newsletter, featuring articles on:

  • Prairie Rivers Network Endowment
  • The Charles Goodall Fund
  • Miles for Monarchs at the Illinois Marathon
  • 2015 Accomplishments
  • Annual Dinner Round Up
  • A Just Transition: Building a Future for Former Coal Communities
  • Thank you Business Sponsors

And an important message from our Coal Program Coordinator and Water Policy Specialist:

Dear Friends,

When I started working at Prairie Rivers Network in 2013, we had already been fighting the proposed Bulldog coal mine in East-Central Illinois for over a year. We know that this coal mine would threaten the health, quality of life, and economic vitality of our communities, as well as our area’s rich farmland. We share your concerns that the mine may damage clean drinking water and the health of the Salt Fork River.

The mine was originally slated to begin mining in January 2014. For the past five years, Prairie Rivers Network has been successfully working with residents, farmers, and land owners to keep the Bulldog coal mine from beginning operations. We have been highlighting discrepancies and flaws in the mine’s permit applications, which prompted serious review and extensive questioning of the permits. As it stands today, the Bulldog mine has not secured either of the permits it needs to begin mining.

Through countless petitions, public meetings, agency hearings, and public pressure, we continue to thwart the Bulldog mine. As the recent Paris climate talks have demonstrated, we need to keep more coal in the ground, not harm our farmland and vital water resources with more coal mines.

We know grassroots activism can permanently stop coal mines, because it has! Earlier this year, Canton-area residents celebrated after winning an eight-year battle to halt the proposed North Canton coal strip mine – successfully protecting Fulton County communities and their right to clean water. The coal company never had the chance to mine the site, in part because they never received a water pollution permit from the Illinois EPA. Prairie Rivers Network and our partners successfully challenged this permit. Thanks to the financial support of members like you and concerned citizens speaking up, we won—and clean water was protected!

But the fight to stop the Bulldog coal mine is not over. While we have been successful in delaying and fighting this coal mine, Sunrise Coal continues to seek the necessary permits for the mine. That is why I am asking you for your financial support. We do not currently have any grants to fund our coal mine program. We rely on the generosity of our members to fund this important work.

Please support Prairie Rivers Network by becoming a first-time member, renewing your membership, or making an extra year-end donation today.

We could not achieve these successes without the support of our members. The money we raise now will allow us to operate at full strength next year.

Thank you for your support and for caring about clean water and healthy rivers.


Tyler Rotche
Water Policy Specialist