2004 Accomplishments

Reducing Nutrient Pollution

In collaboration with the Sierra Club and Environmental Law and Policy Center, we pressed for long-overdue reductions in the amount of phosphorus that sewage treatment plants and others release into Illinois streams. In response, Illinois EPA proposed that phosphorus in new or increased wastewater discharges be reduced to just 1 mg per liter, a level that would significantly reduce excess algae growth and other problems in rivers and streams. We are now working to win the Pollution Control Board’s approval of this important change, the first significant limit on phosphorous discharges to Illinois streams.

Enforcing the Clean Water Act

We continued to closely monitor implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act and to intervene when agencies failed to fulfill their responsibilities under the act. For example, we sought to strengthen dozens of draft permits for municipalities, industries, and others who wanted to discharge pollutants into state streams. We intervened when proposed permits failed to meet the act’s standards, forcing the agency to require fuller compliance. When an association representing those who discharge wastewater into Illinois streams proposed pollution levels which would reduce dissolved oxygen in the state waters and negatively impact fish and other aquatic species, we initiated a campaign to oppose it, and are continuing work to prevent this unwarranted and damaging change.

Improving Chicago Area Waters and Minimizing the Impacts of Development

With partners such as the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Sierra Club and citizen groups along the Fox River, Manhattan Creek, Hickory Creek, and other streams, we continued to use the Clean Water Act to help protect streams in the rapidly developing Chicago region. We provided technical and organizing assistance to citizen groups, empowering them to influence community officials as sewage treatment plants were expanded to serve new households. We also served on Task Forces formed to consider improved water quality standards for the Des Plaines River, the Chicago River, and other area waters.

Engaging River Advocates

We developed new initiatives to inspire and equip citizens to care for Illinois rivers. Our “Illinois Stream Team” is a volunteer monitoring program that enables citizens to investigate and measure the chemical and physical quality of waters in rivers and streams, and report that information to a central database. In September we trained the first volunteers for the team. Our long-term goal is to have monitors in every Illinois watershed.

Our Storm Drain Stenciling program is part of a “Be River Smart Illinois” campaign which we launched to inform the general public of simple steps they can take to improve water quality and protect their rivers. Using kits that we assembled, volunteers can paint “Dump no waste – Drains to stream” notices on storm drains throughout their communities. Prairie Rivers is working with volunteers to stencil drains in Champaign, Urbana, and around the state.

Reforming Drainage Practices

We began a long-term effort to reform Illinois drainage practices. The Illinois Drainage Code, unchanged since the 1870’s, empowers hundreds of drainage districts throughout the state to levy taxes, channelize and dredge river beds, and clear trees from private property. Although these actions speed the movement of water from the land, they have enormous consequences for streams, including the destruction of fish and wildlife habitat and increased water temperatures, flood heights, and stream bank erosion. As part of our effort in this area, we worked with landowners to intervene in a drainage district’s plan to dredge and channelize a portion of the Salt Fork River, and began to build public awareness of alternatives to these practices, laying the foundation for a state-wide effort to improve drainage practices.