2003 Accomplishments

Enforcing the Clean Water Act

We continued to press for full implementation of the Clean Water Act to restore polluted waters and keep clean waters clean. This includes enforcement of the new anti-degradation policy to protect our highest quality waters, better land management and stormwater controls, and improved implementation of the watershed restoration program for degraded waters. With partner groups, we have taken steps to designate Illinois’ finest streams as Outstanding Resource Waters, in which no new pollution is allowed.

Empowering River Advocates

In January 2003, we trained 40 citizen activists to use the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution discharged to their hometown streams. Throughout the year, we worked with community advocates from New Lenox to Carbondale, challenging projects that would pollute streams and threaten fishing, swimming, and safe drinking water. We also continued to foster new groups that can become the eyes and ears of their rivers.

Ending Clean Water Act Exemptions for Mining

In 2001, we discovered that Illinois law exempted the mining industry from requirements of the Clean Water Act, allowing mining activities that pollute Illinois rivers. With the Environmental Law and Policy Center we challenged this violation of federal law. Now all mining permits that the Illinois EPA issues must first be reviewed by US EPA to ensure they meet Clean Water Act requirements. Since this new practice was adopted, the permits issued are some of the strongest we have seen in Illinois. While regulatory changes are needed to eliminate the exemption permanently, the agency and the industry are well aware that permits must comply with the federal law or be challenged by Prairie Rivers and our partners.

Improving Chicago Waters and Combating Unsound Development

With partners such as the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Sierra Club, we pressed Illinois EPA to significantly improve water quality standards for Chicago-area rivers to make these waters safe for recreation and aquatic life. In addition, when sewage treatment plants sought to expand their discharges to accommodate urban growth, we worked with local communities to ensure full compliance with the Clean Water Act, thereby reducing pollution discharges and minimizing the impacts of growth on water quality and river habitat.

Working in Our Own Backyard

We again co-hosted the annual Salt Fork River Clean-up, attracting nearly 200 volunteers to remove unsightly and hazardous trash from this scenic Champaign County stream. Plans are underway to initiate a similar event on the Sangamon River and to establish a new group to be the voice for that river. We hosted canoe tours for policy makers, developed a Vermilion Rivers educational display, and gave numerous presentations for local groups.