Archive: Articles

June 17, 2016

WRDA we want? Healthy Rivers.


Floodwaters threaten a levee along the Mississippi River

Though it receives less scrutiny than other government actions, federal water policy has immense and lasting impacts on rivers and wildlife, as well as millions of Americans. And much of that policy is dictated by one piece of legislation–the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). An update to this large and complex collection of “all-things-water” policies comes around every couple years, and gives the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority to address inland waterway navigation, flood protection, environmental restoration, and much, much more. Big, catch-all legislation like WRDA can be daunting to parse and interpret, but it also provides opportunities to make major strides toward healthy rivers.

These opportunities are before us again, and as both houses of Congress work to develop, refine, and reconcile WRDA 2016, we have some simple requests that will result in healthier rivers in Illinois, and nationwide. Just because a bill is big and complicated, doesn’t mean our “asks” have to be. Here are some ways Congress can work to ensure healthier rivers and safer communities:

Use low-impact, nature-based solutions to address river management issues. Where appropriate, Congress should require the Corps to consider less environmentally destructive (and often, less costly) approaches to address water resource issues. Low-impact and nature-based solutions can take many forms. For instance, the Corps could initiate barge scheduling to alleviate traffic issues, instead of building new locks. They could also consider levee setbacks to improve flood risk reduction, instead of building levees higher.

Use up-to-date information to make decisions. Congress should require to the Corps to update operations plans for water resource projects every 10 years. Right now, the Corps operates much of its infrastructure using decades-old plans, which can harm fish and wildlife, and increase flood risk for communities. Updated operations can provide many benefits for fish, wildlife, and people. For example, the Corps can evaluate how to manage water levels behind locks and dams to improve the conditions of wetlands and other habitats for wildlife.

Make water resource information readily available to the public. It’s a no-brainer that public projects should provide adequate public benefit. To ensure that Corps projects make sense economically, socially, and ecologically, it is important that outside experts and local stakeholders have the information they need to make informed assessments.

Improve emergency flood recovery efforts. We want to make it easier for communities to consider and implement non-structural restoration measures like levee setbacks to reduce flood risk. When levees are damaged, instead of simply rushing to repair a levee that has already failed, the Corps should be required to evaluate non-structural measures that reduce flood risk.

Avoid harming fish and wildlife by listening to the experts. The Corps should avoid and mitigate for projects that cause harm to fish and wildlife. Projects should be reviewed under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and the Corps should listen to agency experts about how to avoid damaging impacts. For instance, conservation agencies have said the wetland losses and environmental impacts of the New Madrid Levee Project–a proposal to sever one of the few remaining river-floodplain connections that exist in Missouri–would be impossible to mitigate. When agency experts come bearing grim news like this, we want the Corps to listen.

Although WRDA may seem complicated, it’s important that Congress consider these common-sense solutions that support safer communities and healthier rivers.

May 10, 2016

Miles for Monarchs Raises $7,000

Thank you to our Miles for Monarchs Fundraising Team


Our team raised $7,000 and ran/walked, some of us in the rain, 125.4 miles in 23 hours, 30 minutes, and 36 seconds during the 2016 Illinois Marathon race weekend in April:

Camp No Scouts

Diza Baryshnikov

Emil LeBauer

Elliana Moore

Theodore Nevins

Kavi Patel

Miles Sola

(Amy Byrum Leader of these amazing 6-8 year olds)

Diza, Miles, Ellie, Kavi, Emil Diza and Ellie 2
Ellie2 unnamed (2)


First Presbyterian Church of Urbana Earth Care Team:

David Bullock

Bob Burger

Liz Greeley

Dixie and Gary Jackson

David Sherwood

Case Sprenkle

Linda Williams


And our individual fundraisers:

Andrea Fain

Jean Flemma

Carol and Scott Hays

Rob Kanter

Nudelman Family

Erin Slifer



April 8, 2016

University of Illinois Votes for Coal Divestment

University of Illinois Academic Senate votes to divest from coal companies

photo credit: Wenyuan Chen, Daily Illini

photo credit: Wenyuan Chen, Daily Illini

This week, the University of Illinois Academic Senate (over 200 faculty and students) voted in overwhelming support of a resolution to divest from coal companies — shifting the University’s investments to socially responsible funds.

The resolutions was pushed by Student Senators and the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign, which has organized since 2011 on this issue. This vote comes after two Illinois Student Senate resolutions pushing divestment (passed in 2012 and 2015) and a campus-wide referendum with 86% supporting divestment.

UIUC Beyond Coal campaign members and Student Senators will be meeting with the campus treasury to ensure campus-level funds are switched as soon as possible.

PRN staff member Tyler Rotche has been working with the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign since the divestment movement began in 2011. Here’s his take on the significance of this victory:

Since the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign began pushing for divestment in 2011, the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown from three university campaigns to a worldwide movement: 509 institutions have now committed to divest $3.4 trillion.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has its origins in the Apartheid divestment movement of the 1970s and 80s: responding to the apartheid system that disenfranchised people of color in South Africa — and inaction by the US government — students pressured their universities to divest. The movement made stock in businesses that benefited from apartheid morally unacceptable and companies began to withdraw from South Africa. Investors gave visibility and legitimacy to the movement, opening space for strong political sanctions, and the South African government began to realize the damage of being isolated.

Anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a similar analysis of fossil fuel divestment: “We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.”

The divestment movement reflects diminishing investor confidence in an industry that has continued to collapse, shrinking nearly 90 percent from where it stood in April 2011.

But more importantly, major institutional investors are sending a clear message that fossil fuel companies are no longer operating by ethical standards. At the University of Illinois, senators sent a clear message that the risks from coal mining, poorly-regulated self-bonding, and polluting coal ash sites need to be addressed.

As coal companies propose transferring damages to taxpayers and community members who may have to clean up their mess, Universities and other major institutions are saying what our regulators aren’t: “that is unacceptable.”

Read more in the Daily Illini.

March 10, 2016

Prairie Rivers Network & Partners Score Legal Victory for Clean Water

Illinois Appellate Court Agrees MWRD Waste Water Permits are Illegal
By Kim Knowles

In a much-welcomed decision, the Illinois Appellate Court handed clean water advocates a victory by declaring that three very significant waste water permits do not comply with the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. The three permits under challenge were issued to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and those permits allowed MWRD to continue discharging high levels of the pollutant phosphorus to Illinois waters.

Too much phosphorus in water can be very harmful to aquatic life and it can be very harmful to people. Phosphorus fuels the growth of algae. Too much algae and we get the green gunk-infested waters we’re all too familiar with in Illinois. It’s nasty and it stinks and no one wants to swim in it. And when it decomposes, it robs the water of oxygen, making life difficult for fish and other aquatic creatures that depend on it. Certain forms of algae can also be toxic, as we saw in Toledo when algal toxins shut down that city’s drinking water supply. A great many of Illinois’ rivers, lakes and streams are polluted by phosphorus and algae.

image (1)

MWRD discharges a lot of phosphorus to the Chicago Area Waterway System, which eventually flows to the Illinois River and then to the Mississippi River. Despite MWRD’s huge contribution to the phosphorus problem, the district has not been required, until most recently, to remove phosphorus from its discharge. Unfortunately, those recent requirements fell far short of protecting water quality, so we joined with Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Chicago River and Gulf Restoration Network in a legal challenge of MWRD’s waste water discharge permits. And - we won!

The Appellate Court has ordered Illinois to ensure that MWRD’s permits do not allow it to discharge levels of phosphorus that can cause harmful algal blooms. Procedurally, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will have to start over with MWRD’s permits and figure out what phosphorus permit limits will protect the Chicago Area Waterway System and downstream waters. While we expect some confusion and delay on the part of the agency, we are greatly heartened by the important legal precedent the Appellate Court has set. This decision sets the path to more protective waste water permits throughout the state.  Nice going!

February 17, 2016


Be a part of Prairie Rivers Network’s Miles for Monarchs and
help raise money for critical wildlife habitat!

Walk or Run. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s important.

Donate now to help the Monarch!

Monarchs go right through Illinois during their 3,000 mile annual migration. You only have to walk 3.1 miles to help us protect the habitat in Illinois that monarchs need!

Clean water flowing through our rivers is essential to healthy wildlife habitat. At PRN, we continue to work to restore wildlife habitat along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, we have lost almost all milkweed and native pollinator plants from the landscape due to urban sprawl and aggressive use of agricultural herbicides and insecticides. That is why Prairie Rivers Network is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to promote the planting of milkweed and other pollinator plants throughout Illinois. The North American Monarch Conservation Plan has a goal for 10 million acres of monarch habitat to be created or restored in the United States, and Illinois will be an important contributor.

While butterflies may not be as efficient as bees in pollinating plants and crops, they are still important pollinators and are beautiful creatures that need our help. Join us in our Miles for Monarchs campaign to expand and protect habitat for Monarchs and other pollinators. We’ll be running and walking in the 2016 Illinois Marathon sporting brightly colored Monarch t-shirts. You can help by sponsoring a Miles for Monarch team member or organizing a team of friends or colleagues to walk a few Miles for Monarchs during one of the Illinois Marathon races.

What is Miles for Monarchs?

Miles for Monarchs is a fundraiser for Prairie Rivers Network associated with the Illinois Marathon. You walk or run in one of the races at the Illinois Marathon and ask for donations from family and friends to sponsor your charity walk/run.

Prairie Rivers Network has been protecting Illinois’ environment for over 45 years and is a registered 501 (c) (3) in Illinois. Donations are tax deductible and 100% goes towards river and wildlife habitat conservation efforts in Illinois NOT to overhead for the race.

Benefits of walking/running for Prairie Rivers Network

  • Guaranteed lowest race registration fee when you first sign up to be a fundraiser for Prairie Rivers Network
  • Membership in Prairie Rivers Network
  • Team t-shirt when you raise at least $150
  • Prize awarded to biggest fundraiser
  • Making a difference by supporting a great cause: clean water and wildlife habitat
How can you help?

  Click here to make a donation right now!

- or -

  Join the fundraising team – the running/walking is the hard part, fundraising is easy:

  1. Click here to create your fundraising page.

  2. E-mail your family, friends, and co-workers to support you and monarch butterfly habitat!

  3. If you have already registered for your Illinois Marathon race, you are all done. If not, request a discount code from Vickie (vnudelman [at] and then register.

  4. Train for your race.

  5. Pat yourself on your back. You did something good for yourself and for the Monarch butterfly!

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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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