January 30, 2015

A Big Buzz for Pollinators!

pollinator panel 4Over 150 people attended our public panel on pollinators, held January 22 in Champaign! We were thrilled by the turnout and the resounding public interest in helping our pollinator friends. Special thanks to our partners at the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District and University of Illinois Extension for helping make this event possible. We would also like to thank our guest panelists, who did an outstanding job describing the current status of pollinators and what the public can do to help them.

The most important take-home message from the panel is that pollinators need safe habitats and food to be healthy. In Illinois, pollinators are faced with a largely unfriendly, unpalatable environment dominated by corn, soybeans, turfgrass, and asphalt. Pollinators need flowering forbs, shrubs, and trees. Different pollinators have different needs, and just like people, pollinators benefit from a diverse diet. Therefore, plant diversity is key to creating good pollinator habitat.

Any landowner can help pollinators by adding flowering plants to their properties. Even a small flower bed can be a significant contribution. The more people who do something, the greater our collective impact! For ideas about what to plant, visit Extension’s website on pollinator pockets. Rain gardens can also be designed to attract pollinators; visit our rain garden page for more information!

Finally, if you missed the panel, you can watch it below – thanks, UPTV, for making this possible!

January 21, 2015

Victory! Grassroots Group Halts Coal Mine

caceivictoryphotoCanton-area residents celebrated yesterday 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. On January 16th Capital Resources Development Company, LLC asked the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Illinois DNR) to withdraw its permit application for the mine, which has been challenged by the local community since 2007.

The strip mine, authorized twice by the Illinois DNR, would have polluted Canton Lake, endangering the drinking water supply for more than 20,000 local residents. Residents also cited a long list of other threats to local resources and quality of life posed by the mine that were inadequately addressed through the agency’s review process.

The hard-fought victory by the committed members and supporters of Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues is a testament to the power communities have when they stand together to assert their basic rights. The successful effort to block the strip mine will undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to those facing similar threats across the state.

Polluting a Public Water Supply

North CantonThe North Canton Strip Mine would have been the first strip mine in the state allowed to discharge pollution into a public water supply. While many would expect community resources like Canton Lake to be a top priority for water protection, the state-issued permit authorized the strip mine just over a mile upstream, compromising the drinking water for over half of Fulton County’s residents and placing an undue burden on the Canton water treatment plant and local tax payers.

An Irresponsible Operator

The mining company is an affiliate of Springfield Coal Company LLC, a notorious rogue operator that has racked up hundreds of violations at other sites for illegal and dangerous water pollution.

Over the course of just 8 years at the Industry Mine in Schuyler and McDonough counties, the owners of the mining company violated their water pollution permit over 600 times.

A Lengthy Legal Battle – Funded by Bake Sales

Permit No. 385 was originally issued in 2008. The appeal to this decision launched by local residents went through five years of review before an agency official finally handed down an order in 2013 denying the permit, stating that it failed to correctly identify and protect a branch of the Copperas Creek, a tributary to Canton Lake dismissed as “Ravine 6” by Capital Resources,  as an “intermittent stream.”

With the permit ostensibly “denied,” the community was surprised to learn soon after that Illinois DNR’s permitting staff interpreted the ruling as only denying the permit in part – asserting that the rest of the permit had been approved, but needed some revisions.

Illinois DNR went on to issue a revised mining permit in July 2013, in spite of flagrant violations at the company’s other mine sites – prompting another legal challenge by the community and Heart of Illinois Sierra Club group.

On the eve of a court hearing on this second permit challenge, and in the face of continued staunch local opposition, Capital Resources finally asked the agency to withdraw the permit application – ending the life of permit No. 385.

The operator 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 partnered with the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club to challenge this permit, drawing on our experience with pollution violations at the parent company’s Industry Mine.

Because Canton area residents were unable to rely on state regulators to do their jobs, they were forced to hire expert witnesses and legal counsel, funded through bake sales and garage sales, to see that state mining laws were implemented properly.

Mine Permit System Concerns - Fixing the Problems

The fact that the Illinois DNR authorized a strip mine a mile upstream of a public water supply to a company with extensive ongoing pollution violations raises grave concerns about the cozy relationship between state regulators and the coal industry.

Moving forward, Prairie Rivers Network will continue to work alongside our partners in the call for transparency and accountability for the coal mining industry and state mining regulators. With clearer definitions for streams and wetlands that agency staff adhere to, communities facing the impacts of coal extraction can expect higher protections for their watersheds.

Years of violations at Springfield Coal Company mines also highlight the need for stronger enforcement practices. Permit applications from repeated bad actors (or close corporate “affiliates”) should not be granted or renewed – doing so presents a clear danger to the surrounding community’s health and miners’ safety.

Agencies granting permits also have the opportunity to go to greater lengths to consider the impacts of mining on the local land and hydrology – North Canton presenting a clear example with the risks to a public water supply.

Finally, the engaged citizens of Fulton County illustrate the need for a permitting process that is accessible to local residents. Making documents searchable and available allows residents with local knowledge to protect their land and water (in this case, identifying a branch of the Copperas Creek as more than a “ravine”).

Canton Lake Protected

Canton-1

There is no doubt that the North Canton permit should have received more scrutiny from the very beginning. Instead, Canton residents had to wage an eight-year battle to prove to the state that coal mines don’t belong next to drinking water supplies.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues, an important piece of Fulton County has been successfully protected for fishing, hiking, boating, and the provision of safe drinking water for years to come.

January 21, 2015

Join the #4CleanWater Campaign!

4cleanwater#4cleanwater is a social media campaign that gives voice to those who love clean water and know we need laws to protect it.

Over the next several months, supporters of EPA’s clean water rule will use the hashtag #4cleanwater to tell decision makers that clean water is essential to our lives and to our economy. The campaign is designed to stop Congress from interfering with the passage of a new EPA rule that ensures small streams are legally protected under the Clean Water Act. Small streams feed larger river systems and are essential for healthy rivers.

Show your support for clean water by using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or your favorite social media platform. Tell your representatives in US Congress why you are #4cleanwater and ask them to stand up for the clean water protection rule.

Click HERE for instructions on joining the campaign.

Print out a #4cleanwater sign HERE.

We are #4cleanwater!

Click HERE for instructions on joining the campaign.

 

January 15, 2015

Businesses Show Love #4CleanWater

And hopefully you will too!

CLICK HERE for instructions on how to participate

4cleanwater webpost png final

CLICK HERE for instructions on how to participate

January 15, 2015

PRN helps residents fight another factory farm

Prairie Rivers Network is helping yet another group of residents who have joined together to oppose the construction of a hog factory farm in their community. The residents live in Menard County, home to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. The proposed 9,300-hog facility would be located about 5 miles west of the historic site and the town of Petersburg.  This puts the town and historic site downwind of the proposed facility,  and residents are worried that the factory farm will ruin tourism, historical sites, quality of life, and nearby streams. Other factory farms have ruined the lives of their neighbors with foul stenches and gross pollution. You can hear their stories in our short documentary, “Living in Confinement.”

This new Petersburg group recently learned they will have more time to voice their concerns about the hog farm because the Department of Agriculture failed to notify the public about the planned construction. Prairie Rivers Network sent the group the legal citation for this requirement, and a few phone calls later, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged the misstep and announced the process will have to begin again. We will keep you updated as this fight against the factory farm continues.

Read more about the proposed factory farm and the concerns of neighbors and Petersburg residents in this January 8 news article from the Illinois Times.

January 1, 2015

2014 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 2014 that were made possible because of our generous and committed members.

Helping people protect clean water and healthy rivers.
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TAKING ACTION

Our new River Action Team (affectionately known as the RATs) is ready to take action with phone calls, visits to policy makers and letters to the editor when those voices can really make a difference. This year they cut their teeth calling for protection of the Mahomet Aquifer. They are currently mobilizing to support U.S. EPA’s clean water rule.

TELLING STORIES

With new video production capabilities, we are bringing important clean water issues to more people than ever. We created a mini-documentary on factory farms and a series of videos in support of U.S. EPA’s clean water rule. Visit our YouTube channel to watch the stories of real people affected by and fighting against pollution: youtube.com/PrairieRivers

GATHERING SUPPORT

With support from Prairie Rivers Network, an unprecedented variety of Vermilion County leaders have joined the call of residents for a responsible closure plan for the coal ash dumps at the retired Dynegy Vermilion power plant. These dumps threaten both groundwater and the Middle Fork River.

Protecting special places, for today and the future.
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ILLINOIS RIVER

We initiated the Middle Illinois River Conservation Partnership to restore and connect habitat along the River,  pursuing a vision for a healthy Illinois River system that supports people and wildlife.

We continue our efforts to protect Starved Rock State Park from a frac sand mine that would welcome the park’s 2 million annual visitors with dust and blasting noise. We also worked with LaSalle County to improve its Comprehensive Land Use Plan to protect valuable habitat and water resources along the Illinois River near the park from the frac sand rush now underway there.

VERMILION RIVER

The City of Danville voted to remove two obsolete dams on the Vermilion River, one of which has been responsible for several deaths. Over the years, Prairie Rivers Network has assisted with the effort to deal with these dams, sharing resources on the benefits of dam removal, and helping to secure the state funds that will pay for the removal.

FOX RIVER

We negotiated stricter limits on phosphorus pollution for several sewage treatment plants in northeast Illinois. This is the same pollution that shut down Toledo’s water supply for several days this summer. Stricter pollution limits will mean a cleaner, healthier Fox River.

CHICAGO RIVER

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 solutions that will help revitalize the Chicago River – reducing pollution and improving flood control, habitat, and recreational access.

Improving policies to promote lasting change.
Stacy with Dan Allen during documentary filming 2013

BETTER COAL ASH RULES

Our work over several years demanding accountability for coal ash pollution emboldened the Illinois EPA to propose new rules for closure of coal ash dumps at power plants. During the rulemaking process, we provided testimony in support of stronger provisions in the rule, while acknowledging what an important step the Agency’s action was. We expect to see the rule finalized early next year.

IMPROVING COAL OVERSIGHT

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources answered our call for greater oversight of coal ash dumps and improved transparency and public participation in the permitting process for coal mines. The Department commenced inspections of all coal ash dumps in the state for stability hazards.

REDUCING LIVESTOCK POLLUTION

Illinois adopted a new rule requiring factory farm operators to manage waste more responsibly than ever. By presenting evidence of water pollution problems this waste has caused, and countering industry claims, Prairie Rivers Network staff were integral to getting this new rule.

FIGHTING BAD RIVER MANAGEMENT

Prairie Rivers Network joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, challenging a costly and destructive approach to management of the Upper Mississippi River. If successful, this challenge will have
far-reaching implications for the Mississippi and other rivers.

Partners

Much of our work is carried out in partnership with other groups and organizations. Through our effective working relationships, we punch above our weight in protecting clean water and healthy rivers in Illinois. We owe special thanks to all of our partners.

Stacy James working with the Save our Sandy grassroots organization to fight a factory farm that could pollute their local stream.

Stacy James working with the Save our Sandy grassroots organization to fight a factory farm that could pollute their local stream.

Awards

We are very proud and honored to be named the National Wildlife Federation’s Affiliate of the Year for 2014. Each year, the award recognizes one of NWF’s 49 state affiliates for conservation accomplishments.

NWF Annual Meeting-4

Robert Hirschfeld, Glynnis Collins, and board member Clark Bullard receiving our NWF Affiliate of the Year Award.