Prairie Rivers Network works to protect Illinois’ rivers for people, fish, and wildlife.


Prairie Rivers Network champions clean, healthy rivers and lakes and safe drinking water to benefit the people and wildlife of Illinois. Drawing upon sound science and working cooperatively with others we advocate public policies and cultural values that sustain the ecological health and biological diversity of water resources and aquatic ecosystems.

Goal for Illinois Waterways

Our work is guided by a vision of healthy “waterways,” a term that, for us, includes not only water flows and aquatic life but lands adjacent to or otherwise closely connected with rivers, streams, lakes, and other water bodies. Waterways supply valuable resources for people and essential habitat for other animals and plants. Our vision of healthy waterways–our vision of good waterway use–comprises the following elements:

  • Clean water – Our rivers, lakes and streams should be clean enough for swimming and boating, to supply drinking water, and for responsible use by farmers and industry.
  • Healthy water flows – Rivers and streams should be free from aggressive alterations of natural flows; such alterations can noticeably worsen flooding and droughts, disrupt healthy flora and fauna and deplete drinking water supplies.
  • Edible fish – Waterways should support a wide range of commercial and sport fish that reproduce naturally and that everyone can safely eat.
  • Resilience to climate change – Illinois’ 120,000 miles of rivers should provide a framework of connected natural areas and habitats, allowing plants and wildlife to thrive and adapt to changing climates.
  • Protecting the best – The state’s cleanest and healthiest streams should enjoy enhanced legal protection to keep them that way.
  • Rare plants and animals – Rare plants and animals in and around waterways should receive special protections to aid their survival and recovery.

You can read our strategic plan for more information on our vision for healthy waterways and how we will achieve that goal.


Director of Illinois Department of Transportation and Bruce Hannon with petition opposing dam project (1970s).

Director of Illinois Department of Transportation and Bruce Hannon with petition opposing dam project (1970s).

Prairie Rivers Network was established in 1967 under the leadership of Bruce and Patricia Hannon as they engaged others to oppose the construction of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Oakley Reservoir on the Sangamon River near Decatur. Oakley Reservoir would have put hundreds of acres of Allerton Park, a locally cherished natural area in Central Illinois, underwater and flooded thousands more adjacent acres. This group of concerned and dedicated citizens incorporated as the Committee on Allerton Park as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. They battled the dam for many years halting its appropriation progress in 1975 and deauthorizing it at the federal level in late 1985.

In 1973, the group realized that a locally focused effort could not stop the Oakley Dam which was part of an overall national program.  They formed a sister organization under the same board called the Coalition on American Rivers (COAR) to organize opposition to similar Corps dams and other projects throughout the Midwest. As a 501 (c ) 4 organization, it was able to lobby in Washington and at the state level.

Under the leadership of John Marlin, the first paid Executive Director (1973-1983), these organizations brought together people that crossed political and social boundaries to protect rivers from federal water resources projects that threatened most of the nation’s rivers in the 1960’s and 70’s. Aided by hundreds of volunteers, including University of Illinois students, the COAR helped citizen groups around the Midwest organize and offered constituent support to like-minded politicians. They also joined Washington based organizations in testifying before Congress and taking the message to individual members of Congress.

By the late 1970s, the political climate had changed and the Congressional attitude toward water project became more balanced as the public became aware of their environmental and economic shortcomings. The collective effort of concerned citizens stopped dozens of dams, reservoirs, and other environmentally costly water projects that would have permanently altered the habitats of most of the nation’s rivers including the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The COAR became the Central States Resource Center in 1979.

In 1984, the Committee on Allerton Park was renamed Central States Education Center (CSEC) to reflect the group’s continuing and increasing statewide focus on a number of issues including solid waste. Central States Education Center changed its name to Prairie Rivers Network in 1998 to more accurately reflect our focus on issues that impact Illinois’ rivers and watersheds. In 2007, Bruce Hannon retired as President of the Board of Directors after nearly 40 years of service.

Since its inception, PRN has consistently used grass roots organizing and advocacy to protect the rivers and streams of Illinois. From the successful opposition of dams proposed in the 1970’s that would have permanently altered the flow of our rivers, to our current efforts to ensure full enforcement of the Clean Water Act to reduce water pollution and protect fish and wildlife habitats, PRN works with local citizens to advocate for the protection of our rivers at the federal, state, and local level.

With the support of our members and partners, Prairie Rivers Network has grown to become the statewide leader in river protection, conservation, and restoration.

View our 40th Anniversary History Booklet.

View a multimedia presentation of the Middle Fork
of the Vermilion River saga that started it all.