July 29, 2015

New Madrid Levee Project is Harmful Boondoggle that Must Be Stopped

Prairie Rivers Network & partners seek EPA veto

Down in the Missouri boot heel lies a huge expanse of wetlands where migratory birds seek rest and food, and where fish spawn and rear their young. By storing massive amounts of water during storms, the wetlands also protect the Illinois towns of Cairo and Olive Branch from destructive flooding. These precious wetlands get their water from the Mississippi River through the last remaining gap in the complex of levees that divide the river from its floodplain. Without the gap, the wetlands would die, along with many of the fish and birds that rely on them. It is this natural flooding through the gap in the levee that has created the most important backwater fisheries habitat in the Middle Mississippi River.

MS River backwater

The gap in the levee remains because the area is a federally-designated floodway. As such, it is intended to be flooded during big storms. Landowners in the floodway, despite having been compensated for use of the land in this way, are not happy about the periodic flooding. They want the gap closed, and the Army Corps of Engineers is determined to give them what they want, no matter the cost.

The Corps’ New Madrid Levee project would close the 1500 foot gap in the Mississippi River levee with a 60 foot high wall and drain the area with massive pumps. The price tag is high, $165 million taxpayer dollars, especially when you consider who gains; and who loses.

The winners are few. A small group of powerful agricultural landowners in the floodway want more certainty over crop production. With the gap closed, these landowners will be freer to plant still more crops and otherwise further develop the floodway. Senators McCaskill and Blunt stand to gain the farmer vote through support of the project.

Stop the New Madrid Levee

The losers are many. Too many. The Town of Olive Branch, Illinois lost 50 homes in a 2011 flood, because Missouri landowners in the floodway brought last minute legal action to try to stop the Corps from using the floodway. The delay cost Olive Branch millions of dollars in damage. Cairo, IL; Paducah, KY; and Hickman, MO are at similar risk of flooding should the levee be built. Once the gap is closed it is fully expected that development within the floodway will intensify. More development means more opposition to operation of the floodway when it is needed. Putting these small struggling river towns at greater risk of flooding also makes it more difficult for them to attract businesses and residents, intensifying economic insecurity.

And then there are the many fish, bird, and other wild species that depend on this area for their survival. We’ve walled off so much of the Mississippi River from its natural floodplain that few backwater habitats persist. It is in these backwater areas that critical spawning, rearing, and nesting occur, and allow species to recover, reproduce, and even thrive. There are fewer and fewer of these places, and we must protect them.

The New Madrid levee has had many heads since its first birth in 1954. In 2007, opponents thought they’d finally seen the end of it when a federal district court ordered the Army Corps to “tear down that wall” (or something like that) and dismantle the parts the Corps had built. But being forced to tear down the project proved no deterrent. The Corps is poised to release its final plan recommending once again that the project be built, and with taxpayer funding.

So how can we finally kill this thing? There is a way. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to veto the project. An EPA veto would ring the final death knell for the New Madrid levee. And that’s what we’re working to achieve. With the help of our partners, Prairie Rivers Network has been co-leading a campaign to convince EPA that it must veto this project. You can help. Join our social media team and keep a look out for action alerts over the coming months.

Email kknowles [at] prairierivers.org to join the campaign.

Let’s #stopthelevee once & for all.


July 22, 2015

Press Release – New Poll: Hunters and Anglers Nationwide Support the EPA’s Clean Water Rule

July 22, 2015

New Poll: Hunters and Anglers Nationwide Support the EPA’s Clean Water Rule

Sportsmen and women across the political spectrum support protecting smaller streams and wetlands

Washington—A new nationwide, bipartisan survey found broad support among hunters and anglers for applying Clean Water Act protections to smaller streams and wetlands.

“As every hunter or angler knows, ducks need healthy wetlands and fish need clean water—it’s that simple,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, which commissioned the poll. “Everyone on Capitol Hill should take note: clean water has the bipartisan support of millions of sportsmen and women across our nation—and these men and women vote.”

Download the poll memo.

One of the poll’s key findings is that more than 8 in 10 of the hunters and anglers (83 percent) surveyed thought that the Environmental Protection Agency should apply the rules and standards of the Clean Water Act to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands. Support for this policy was strong across the political spectrum with 77 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Independents and 97 percent of Democrats in favor.

“The results of this poll are unambiguous: America’s hunters and anglers care very deeply about water quality,” said Al Quinlan, the president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “It is unusual to see such intense levels of public support for any issue.”

“I am the fourth generation of my family that has loved to fish the Wabash River. My sons are the fifth, said Illinois based artist and avid fisherman, Tony Treadway. “I have always lived or worked near Illinois waterways. I have seen the change from when I started fishing in the 1960’s and how much cleaner and better the rivers are now as a result of the environmental protection acts, like the Clean Water Act. I hope that the rivers continue to improve in their health so that they will be there for my grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy as I have in my lifetime.”

The issue of protecting smaller streams and wetlands adjacent to those streams has been politically contentious in recent years. The Clean Water Act protected all of the nation’s streams and wetlands from its passage in 1972 until two split Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left it unclear exactly which streams and wetlands could be covered by the law.

The bipartisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) partnered on the survey of 1000 registered voters who also hunt or fish. The sample leaned conservative—38 percent of those polled were Republicans, while just 28 percent were Democrats. Almost half of those surveyed (49 percent) said they considered themselves a supporter of the Tea Party.

“It would be hard to find a more conservative group than the hunters and anglers we polled,” said Lori Weigel, a partner at the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. “And yet their support of this policy is broad‐based and wide‐spread, cutting across partisan and ideological divisions. And it endures after hearing the arguments against it.”

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule clarifying that the Clean Water Act applies to more than half of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands—bodies of water that had been in a legal limbo for more than a decade. However, Congress is considering legislation that would undermine or nullify this rule.

Additional results from the poll:

  • Fully 89 percent say that the Clean Water Act has been “more of a good thing” for the country, with majorities of every single demographic sub‐group echoing this sentiment.
  • More than 8 in 10 sportsmen (82 percent) agree with the statement: “We can protect our water quality and have a strong economy with good jobs for Americans at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.”
  • Three-quarters (75 percent) of hunters and anglers see applying the Clean Water Act to smaller streams and wetlands is more of a safeguard, rather than a burdensome regulation.
  • Almost half of those surveyed (47 percent) say that water quality and fish and wildlife habitat issues are of primary importance to their voting decisions. Nearly all sportsmen say these issues are at least somewhat significant in their voting decisions (92 percent).
  • Two-thirds (67 percent) say they would have a more favorable opinion if their Senator upheld this application of the Clean Water Act. Only one-in-ten would feel less favorably (11 percent).

“Hunters and anglers were the original conservationists and their support for this policy comes as no surprise,” said Jim Martin, conservation director at the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of Pure Fishing, one of the largest tackle manufacturers in the sportfishing industry. “Restoring Clean Water Act protections to smaller streams and wetlands will help the economy, protect our drinking water and allow us to pass the great sport of fishing down to future generations. Congress should allow this common-sense rule to take effect without delay.”

“I cannot fathom the thought of my kids not being able to hunt or fish in the streams here in Illinois, says Dan Sidwell, President of the Oyate Sports Club in Pocahontas, IL, who is supportive of the Clean Water Act. “Outdoor recreation and sports are a tradition in downstate Illinois. As an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman, I believe it’s our responsibility to take care of our streams, rivers and lakes. If we don’t what will we leave for our children?”

About the methodology

From June 23–July 4, 2015, Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research completed 1000 interviews with registered voters who also identify as hunters, anglers or both. Half of the interviews were conducted on landline and cell phones, with the other half conducted via internet panels. Respondents are from throughout the United States and the sample was compared to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys of adults who hunt or fish for demographic representation.

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and InstagramPrairie Rivers Network is National Wildlife Federation’s Illinois Affiliate and Illinois’ advocate for clean water and healthy rivers. 

Lacey McCormick, (512) 610-7765, mccormick@nwf.org
National Wildlife Federation

Carol Hays, (217) 344-2371, chays@prairierivers.org
Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois Affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation


July 16, 2015

Say NO MORE to mercury pollution in the Ohio River!

No more Mercury Ohio River thermometer image

Clean water can’t wait! It’s time to stop discharging toxic levels of mercury into the Ohio River!

The Ohio River is the public water supply for 5 million homes from Pittsburgh, PA to Cairo, IL, and is home to over 150 species of fish. It shouldn’t be a private waste dump for big business. But for ten years now, dozens of coal fired power plants and factories up and down the Ohio River have fought a requirement to cut the amount of mercury they dump into the river. Mercury — it’s so toxic that it’s not even safe to put an old glass mercury thermometer in our kids’ mouths.

Right now public officials with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), which sets pollution control standards for the Ohio River, are considering backtracking on previous limits to continue to allow “hot spots” in the Ohio River, where dangerously high levels of mercury are pumped into the river. According to the EPA, toxic pollutants like mercury can build up in the food chain to levels harmful to human and ecosystem health. They are associated with a range of adverse human health effects including cancer.

Prairie Rivers Network is working with Kentucky Waterways Alliance and other groups in states along the Ohio River to stop these increases in mercury dumping into the river.  Together we are petitioning ORSANCO to keep current rules in place.

Sign our petition to protect the Ohio River.

“We, the undersigned, do not want toxic amounts of mercury dumped into the Ohio River.  We want state and federally-appointed officials charged with improving water quality in the Ohio River to uphold the ban on toxic chemical hotspots, or mixing zones.  We want government officials to put public health before corporate profits.  We want the Ohio River to be free of mercury, from Pittsburgh to Paducah.”

Illinois shares 122 miles of the Ohio River before it joins the Mississippi River at Cairo, IL. This stretch of the Ohio is home to historic Cave-in-Rock, Metropolis and its famous Superman statue, the beautiful Shawnee National Forest, and the Ohio River Scenic Byway that meanders through beautiful river towns, with scenic glimpses of the river.  Please help us protect the river that these communities rely on.

Please stand with us to protect the health of Ohio River communities in Illinois, and wildlife from toxic mercury, by adding your name to the petition to ORSANCO.


When signing, please indicate that you heard about this issue from Prairie Rivers Network.

Learn more about this issue at Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

This article from WDRB in Louisville, KY (PDF of article) details how mercury pollution is threatening people, communities, and wildlife along the Ohio River.

July 16, 2015

Senator Kirk’s Great Lakes Water Protection Act: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

We’re not really sure what Senator Kirk is up to now. His Great Lakes Water Protection Act was always a bit sketchy in that it appeared to simply prohibit what the Clean Water Act already prohibits. Basically, Kirk’s Protection Act outlaws the dumping of untreated sewage to the Great Lakes by 2035. The Act would also increase the penalties for those caught dumping sewage and direct those penalties to a trust fund to be used for improving sewage treatment, habitat protection, and wetland restoration in the Great Lakes region.

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingSounds great, right? Well, two problems.  First, as we said, the Clean Water Act already prohibits the dumping of untreated sewage.  So why didn’t Senator Kirk’s bill simply increase the penalties, create the trust fund,  and let the  Clean Water Act do its job?

Second, and far more troubling, Senator Kirk attached his Great Lakes Protection Act to an Interior appropriations bill crammed with poisonous provisions that among other offenses kill EPA’s Clean Water Rule and its budget by cutting $1billion of the agency’s funding.  The appropriations bill also cuts State Revolving Funds (SRF), which is federal money used to help finance sewage treatment upgrades. Nonsensical!  Kirk naturally voted for the appropriations bill and his Great Lakes Protection Act.

EPA’s new Clean Water Rule (and the SRF) provides essential protection to water quality in the Great Lakes. Without the new rule, 90% of the wetlands in the Great Lakes and many of the streams that are tributary to the Great Lakes remain at risk of pollution and destruction.

So, what is Kirk doing?   It appears he’s using his Great Lakes Water Protection Act to cloak the very dirty pro-polluter agenda of destroying the EPA. Kirk thinks he can vote to kill fundamental environmental protections AND be a champion of the Great Lakes.

Well, you can’t fool us, Senator Kirk. Stop undermining the Clean Water Act while pretending to protect the Great Lakes.

May 27, 2015

Water advocates, Illinois businesses applaud release of EPA’s Clean Water Rule

For Immediate Release
May 27, 2015

Water advocates, Illinois businesses applaud release of EPA’s Clean Water Rule

ILLINOIS - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule, providing Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water that are critical to our health, our economy and our natural world. The rule can be viewed here - http://www2.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule

The rule restores Clean Water Act safeguards for waterbodies that were historically protected under the Act. The streams and wetlands at issue – two million stream miles and 20 million wetland acres – provide critical wildlife habitat, flood control, and drinking water to 117 million Americans.

Streams and wetlands are economic drivers. They play an important role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing. They also provide drinking water for 1 in 3 people. The Clean Water Rule will help ensure businesses have reliable access to clean water.  Environmental advocacy groups and Illinois businesses praised the rule.

“A federal regulatory framework provides a level playing field to those businesses that operate responsibly, incorporating protection of this most precious resource into their business models. Allowing unregulated pollution of small streams and wetlands on the other hand, would incite a race to the bottom, with the costs borne by our rivers and streams, our communities, and our businesses,” said Kim Knowles, staff attorney, Prairie Rivers Network.

Leaving streams and wetlands unprotected would be devastating for American business. Business depends on clean water; it is critical for manufacturing, food production, and recreation.

“One of the most crucial things that we need as a society is rules to protect our most essential resources,” said Ken Myszka, owner and chef of Epiphany Farms in Bloomington, IL. “That’s why Epiphany Farms supports EPA’s Clean Water Rule.”

A 2014 poll conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council found that 80 percent of small business owners support federal rules protecting small streams, with 71 percent saying that clean water is crucial to support economic growth.

“We need the protection of the EPA and the Clean Water Act to ensure that the river where our customers recreate is clean and unpolluted,” said Tod Satterthwaite of Kickapoo Landing, an outdoor outfitter in Oakwood, IL.

“At Big Grove Tavern, we want to support our community’s economic health as well its literal health,” said Rebecca Kane of Big Grove Tavern, in Champaign, Illinois. “Clean lakes and streams ensure healthier food, which trickles down to healthier customers.”

The Clean Water Rule is supported by the latest peer-reviewed science, including more than 1200 pieces of scientific literature.

“Nobody has the right to pollute,” said Wes Jarrell, farmer and owner of Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Urbana, Illinois. “If something leaves my property and goes downstream from me, that’s my responsibility. I’m supposed to stop that. Clean water is absolutely essential to the success of our business.”

For more on why American businesses support the Clean Water Rule, watch our video:


Kim Knowles, Prairie Rivers Network, kknowles@prairierivers.org217-344-2371 ext. 209

May 26, 2015

Prairie Rivers-led conservation partnership yields success

The Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

The Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

When people come together, good things happen. Over the past year, with support from Illinois Clean Energy and Community Foundation, Prairie Rivers Network has convened several organizations who seek to restore and protect the rare and special habitats of the Illinois River system. While we continue to help identify conservation opportunities and priorities, our efforts have already led to success.

Our partners at The Wetlands Initiative recently acquired over 280 acres to expand the 3,000-acre Sue and Wes Dixon Wildlife Refuge. The acquisition will add to the internationally-recognized Refuge by protecting oak woodlands and restoring over 170 acres of agricultural land. We know that the quality of our water is closely tied to the health of the land, and this project represents a great example of diverse habitats from river to bluff.

Restoration at the site will start this fall, and we look forward to documenting the transformation that occurs on the land. We hope that this is the first of many impactful projects that result from improved coordination among conservation groups working along the Illinois River.