Nutrient pollution in Illinois rivers rises relentlessly, Rock River nitrate pollution increased by 135%


The nutrient pollution in Illinois rivers is so high that there is no way the state can achieve the predicted reduction over time.

The nutrient loss reduction strategy biennial report is from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. It shows that years of work between private and public agencies and millions of dollars in taxes have not significantly reduced the nitrate or phosphorus pumped into the state’s rivers and ultimately the Mississippi River. Trevor Sample of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency said the situation was only getting worse.

“We have seen the river flow increase by 25%, nitrates by 13% and total phosphorus by 35% from our baseline,” said Sample. “And our 2025 goal is to show a decrease in nitrates by 15% and 25% total phosphorus.

The statewide push to reduce nutrient pollution is part of a larger federal plan established by the US EPA in 2008 to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone. The sample characterizes this as a “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxic means “lack of oxygen”. He explains that the high level of nutrient pollutants dumped from the Mississippi River reduces oxygen levels in the water to the point that it hinders the ability of aquatic life to reproduce and thrive, making the hypoxic area of ​​the Gulf more in addition uninhabitable.

“The 2008 plan originally called for a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus by 2015. By the time we got to 2015, they came together again and we hadn’t reached the end of the line. ‘goal,’ Sample said. “In fact, he kept getting bigger, for the most part, so they decided that was probably an unrealistic timeframe to start with.”

The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan called for the hypoxic zone to be reduced over a 3 to 5 year average of approximately 1,900 square miles. The 2021 hypoxic zone measured over 6,000 square miles. The size of the dead zone varies and fluctuates every year. The largest hypoxic area measured over 8,000 square miles in 2017.

For Illinois, the state has set a long-term goal of reducing nutrient pollution by 45%, but has not set a date by which that goal will be met. What is clear is that even an interim goal of reducing nitrate and phosphorus pollution is proving elusive. The sample indicates that the heavier precipitation induced by climate change is not helping matters.

An Illinois climate assessment released last year by Nature Conservancy indicated that rainfall patterns in Illinois are expected to become more severe. But American Rivers’ Olivia Dorothy says climate change may not be the only answer to why the state is still failing to meet nutrient reduction targets.

“We can’t put all the blame on climate change and increased precipitation,” Dorothy said. “There is a lot more that farmers can do, to keep their soil on the ground and keep their nutrients in the soil where they are useful and useful for crop production. “

The report shows that over 80% of nitrate pollution comes from agriculture. The remaining 18% can be attributed to sources such as wastewater treatment facilities. Dorothy says these processing facilities have made significant improvements in reducing their nutritional footprint because the state steps in and regulates their operations. This differs from the way agricultural production is managed, where farmers regulate themselves.

“We are still seeing an overall increase in the pollution problem,” Dorothy said. strategy if voluntary solutions are not enough.

The Rock River has seen the largest increase in nitrate pollution of any other river in Illinois, with a 135% increase from baseline years measured between 1980 and 1996. Catie Gregg of the Prairie Rivers Network calls for more stricter deadlines.

“We’re supposed to have a 15% reduction in nitrates and a 25% reduction in phosphorus. And then at some point in the future we’re supposed to hit a 45% reduction in those two goals and those are huge goals, ”said Gregg. “In the meantime we do so little and then we look at it and it’s just overwhelming. We really need to define our own intervals, and they may not be on track right now, but we need to hold ourselves accountable. “

But it will likely continue to be a tough climb. The Illinois Department of Transportation released a report earlier this year that projected inbound shipments of chemical fertilizers to the state would increase 65% by 2045. Trevor Sample of the IEPA said the situation is “of concern”.

In the meantime, the Prairie Rivers System has issued a series of recommendations to improve one of the most important areas of concern when it comes to nitrates, drinking water. This includes calling for a state survey of nitrates in rural wells, digitizing well drilling records, communicating with landowners with free testing, and updating the water body of the well. ‘State of Illinois.

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