Topic: Clean Water Act

December 4, 2012

A Living Document: The US Constitution and Clean Water

Urbana, Illinois  native and University of Illinois alumnus Dr. Richard Lazarus is distinguished among conservation advocates for the many environmental law cases he has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. As Prairie Rivers Network’s honored guest speaker for our 45th Anniversary Annual Dinner, Dr. Lazarus applauded the environmental protections achieved in the last forty years, protections that were the result of revolutionary new federal laws that recognized how essential water, air, and land are to this country’s future prosperity.

Still, the road from environmental legislation to a cleaner world may involve significant detours. And unexpected challenges can present themselves in the form of nine robed figures who have the final say on interpreting the laws of the land.

Posing the question “what does affordable health care have to do with the environment?” Lazarus illuminated how Supreme Court decisions in “non-environmental” cases can impact the reach of federal environmental law protections. {Continue Reading »}

November 26, 2012

Pollution Control Board Decision – Industry Mine owners will not get away with polluting our waters

The Illinois Pollution Control Board has agreed with Prairie Rivers Network, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and The Sierra Club that Industry Mine violated its permit more than 600 times!

Industry Mine Photo credit:

The Industry Coal Mine in McDonough and Schuyler Counties has been getting away with polluting local waterways for years. But on November 16, 2012, the Illinois Pollution Control Board determined that the irresponsible operation of this mine will not go unpunished.

The Board’s ruling is a great victory for the people living in the watersheds of Camp Creek, Willow Creek, and Grindstone Creek, as well as the Lamoine River Ecosystem Partnership, whose members have been fighting for years to stop the pollution from the mine.

The Board agreed with Prairie Rivers Network and our partners that Industry Mine violated its permit 624 times over a period of 8 years. The violations included unlawful discharges of iron, manganese, sulfates, acid, and total suspended solids–enough pollution to pose serious threats to water quality. Until we took action, nothing had been done by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources or the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to stop the pollution or to hold the mine owners accountable for their flagrant noncompliance.

Springfield Coal Company, the current owner of Industry Mine, is seeking to open two new strip mines near Canton and Littleton. We believe the new coal mines will pose serious risks to Canton’s public drinking water supply and to the high quality woodlands and streams in these communities.

Prairie Rivers Network has been working with Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues and other local residents to prevent Springfield Coal Company from setting up or expanding its coal operations in their communities.

The Board will hold a hearing to determine the amount of penalties they will impose on the owners of Industry Mine. Please stay tuned for hearing details and information about how you can help us to make a strong case for the maximum penalties allowable under the law.


October 23, 2012

Take Action: Protect the Illinois River from More Mercury Pollution

Prairie Rivers Network and partners call on the Pollution Control Board to keep mercury out of the Illinois River.

Coal ash ponds at Dynegy's Havana power plant on Illinois River floodplain. Water from the ash pond drains directly to the river.

On October 18th, Prairie Rivers Network joined with the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to appeal the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) decision to allow Dynegy’s Havana Generating Station to add concentrated mercury pollution to existing coal ash ponds that discharge into the Illinois River. (Read our complaint).

Last year, dozens of local residents turned out in opposition to this decision citing public health and safety concerns. Mercury levels for certain fish in the Illinois River are already so high that vulnerable populations are advised to limit the number of fish they eat from the river.

In spite of residents’ concerns, the IEPA allowed Dynegy to add mercury captured by air pollution controls to existing coal ash ponds. Coal ash sludge is already full of heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, selenium, chromium and cadmium, and adding concentrated mercury to the toxic soup in the ponds threatens to send even more mercury pollution into the Illinois River. Removing mercury from power plant emissions is good news for people and fish, but only if power plants dispose of it responsibly to ensure it stays out of our rivers.

Credit: Earthustice

Illinois already leads the nation with more documented cases of coal ash damage than any other state. Without strong nationwide safeguards on coal ash disposal, coal fired power plants will be able to continue irresponsible coal ash disposal practices  – like dumping mercury laden waste in a coal ash pond that discharges to a river used for both commercial and recreational fishing, as is the case in Havana.


Please take action today! Tell the Illinois Pollution Control Board to require Dynegy to dispose of its mercury responsibly!

Keep Mercury from Coal Ash out of the Illinois River



Share this with your friends:


October 17, 2012

Celebrate the Clean Water Act’s 40th Birthday, October 18, 2012

We reflect on the importance of the Clean Water Act on its 40th anniversary.

Thanks to Paula Miller for the cake!

This week, Prairie Rivers Network is celebrating the Clean Water Act, the law that provides the foundation for much of our work to protect Illinois’ waters for people, fish, and wildlife. We will also pause to critically reflect on how the Act can be strengthened.

The Clean Water Act is one of our most critical environmental laws. It provides the foundation for us to ensure that our rivers, streams and lakes are healthy enough to support fishing, swimming and drinking–uses other than just industrial ones. And, most importantly, the Act allows people to take their complaints to officials whose job it is to protect the people’s water resources.

In reality, not many ordinary people have the time and expertise to pursue cases against the pollution of their waters. It is not easy to see a complaint through to resolution. The problem itself must be proven. The sources of the problem must be clearly identified. The problem and source must be legally documented. Finally, one must have enough power and stamina to stand by a case against deeper-pocketed interests.

That’s where Prairie Rivers Network can help. Thanks to the support from our members across the state, we use our scientific, legal and community organizing expertise to prevent pollution. For over a decade, Prairie Rivers Network has used the Clean Water Act to strengthen countless water pollution permits, to bring enforcement cases against illegal polluters, and to challenge and change agency practices that allowed too much water pollution.

Your financial support enables us to apply the power of the
Clean Water Act to help people protect their water. 

And while we will celebrate the true progress of the last 40 years, Prairie Rivers Network continues to support efforts to strengthen the Clean Water Act. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 removed protections from wetlands and intermittent or seasonal streams because of inconsistent language in the Act. We have argued that Congress should fix these inconsistencies and return protection to the broad range of waters that was originally envisioned by Congress.

What can you do to celebrate?

Make a donation to Prairie Rivers Network.

Watch and Share Minnesota Congressman Oberstar’s fantastic Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary video.

Find us on Facebook or Twitter and send your wishes: “Happy Birthday Clean Water Act!”



April 9, 2012

Dual Legal Actions to Reduce Pollution That Fouls Illinois Water and Fuels Gulf Dead Zone

By Glynnis Collins & Kim Knowles

This March, Prairie Rivers Network joined our Mississippi River Collaborative partners in launching two lawsuits against US EPA for their failure to regulate nutrient pollution.

Too many nutrients – a problem

Most people know that nitrogen and phosphorus are important nutrients for plants and animals. At high levels in water, however, the beneficial effects of these nutrients become problematic, and the nutrients are considered pollution.

Nitrate, a form of nitrogen, is toxic to people and other animals at high levels. A decade ago, Georgetown, Illinois had to abandon its drinking water reservoir because of high nitrate levels. Water suppliers for Decatur, Danville, and Streator had to install expensive ion exchange systems costing millions of dollars to remove nitrate from polluted reservoir water. Ongoing operation and maintenance expenses cost ratepayers tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

In rivers and lakes, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution stimulates excessive growth of algae, creating ugly mats or pea-soup scummy water. When the algae die, they rot. The bacteria that decompose them use up most or even all of the oxygen in the water, choking aquatic life. An enormous example of this problem is the “Dead Zone” that forms in the Gulf of Mexico every summer.

Especially in lakes and reservoirs, nutrient pollution can stimulate the growth of blue-green algae. This “pond scum” is unsightly and smells like vomit when it rots – enough to keep people from enjoying boating and swimming. The algae also sometimes release toxic chemicals into the water. Each summer, local communities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois are forced to officially close beaches because of the potential presence of blue-green algae toxins. The toxins can sicken or even kill people, pets, and livestock.

Watch a video on Dead Zone pollution.

{Continue Reading »}

December 6, 2011

Proposed New Strip Mine Threatens Drinking Water

Illinois EPA Proposes to Allow Serial Polluter to Operate New Coal Strip Mine Upstream of Canton Lake

Help residents protect their drinking water and ask state regulators to do their jobs – sign the petition now!

North Canton Mine Proximity to Canton Lake and Copperas Creek Thumb

Residents in Canton are worried about their drinking water. Unfortunately, they have good reason to be. Canton Lake, Copperas Creek, and the people who rely on them are under threat from a proposed 1,000-acre strip mine a mile upstream of Canton Lake.

Over 20,000 people rely on Canton Lake for their drinking water and have taken great lengths to protect this precious resource over the years. For many residents and others who travel to the region, this is an area valued for hunting along and fishing in Copperas Creek, the source for Canton Lake.

Any strip mine would be cause for concern; strip mining coal strips the land of trees and vegetation, regrades the land affecting drainage patterns, and creates water pollution. This would be bad for drinking water. But in this case, there is even more cause for concern. The operator of the mining company behind the proposal for the North Canton Mine (Capitol Resources Development Company) is the same operator for the company (Springfield Coal Company) that runs the Industry Mine. Springfield Coal Company is being sued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan because the Industry Mine’s environmental compliance record is one of the worst for coal mines in Illinois. The case was originally brought by Prairie Rivers Network and the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club in 2009 due to the mine’s continuous violations of its current water permit dating back at least to 2004 and with over 300 Clean Water Act Violations in the past six years. {Continue Reading »}