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Summer Fun Index Highlights Importance of Illinois Waterways

PHOTO: As summer draws to a close, a new report examines the importance of clean water for millions of Illinoisans, like the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County. Photo credit: GoodFreePhotos.com.
PHOTO: As summer draws to a close, a new report examines the importance of clean water for millions of Illinoisans, like the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County. Photo credit: GoodFreePhotos.com.
September 9, 2014

CHICAGO - Whether it's for boating, fishing, or swimming, a new report indicates Illinoisans love to take to the water, and new legislation goes before Congress this week that could extend needed protections to some of those waterways.

According to the new Summer Fun Index from Environment Illinois, over 32 million people visit waterways in Illinois each year. In addition to the recreational opportunities, Illinois rivers, streams and lakes also provide critical habitat to many species, and Lake Michigan remains an important source of drinking water.

According to Dr. Christopher Peterson, professor at the Loyola University Institute of Sustainability, Illinois waterways face a number of significant threats.

"There's the influx of sewage during large rain events when sewers overflow," says Peterson. "The introduction of invasive species that oftentimes can disrupt the food web, the discharge of various kinds of pollutants, or the introduction of heavy metals or other toxins that can threaten human health."

While 48,000 miles of Illinois rivers and streams are not guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule to restore protections for these smaller waterways. However, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on HR 5078, a measure this week that would block the rule.

Peterson says among the small waterway systems and drainages not protected are streams that only run seasonally, and wetland habitats that play a critical role in maintaining the ecosystem.

"We have a lot of problems with high nutrient runoff from farmland," says Peterson. "Wetlands actually serve as a good filter for those so they're reduced to concentrations below undesired levels."

The EPA rule would define federal jurisdiction over smaller waterways, which some opponents claim is an overreach and would disrupt some agricultural operations. The EPA, however, says it is not trying to regulate land use, and normal farming practices are exempt from the rule.

The EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule through the fall.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL