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IL Bill Could Impact Waters as Distant as Gulf of Mexico


Tuesday, February 1, 2022   

Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill proponents say could benefit water quality not only locally, but in places as far-flung as the Gulf of Mexico.

The proposal would update the state's conservation programs and help local organizations set goals and implement projects to reduce the spread of excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that end up in the water.

Eliot Clay, state programs director for the Illinois Environmental Council, explained the nutrients can disrupt marine ecologies and cause harmful algal blooms.

"The bottom line is, it also impacts people's drinking water," Clay pointed out. "A lot of rural Illinois is dependent on well water and aquifers and those kinds of things, and this stuff can pretty easily leach into groundwater."

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, most nutrient runoff seeps into the Mississippi River from farms, and then travels downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, fueling a 6,300-square-mile dead zone.

The legislation calls for more than $260 million over the next decade for a variety of nutrient-reduction efforts.

The bill would support the mission of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which calls for cutting nitrogen in Illinois waters by 15% and phosphorus by 25% by 2025.

The plan was first penned in 2015, but Clay said, since then, the state's nutrient soil load has increased.

"The state, up until last year, didn't even really acknowledge nutrient loss as a problem in state law," Clay explained. "We were finally able to get money for it in the budget last year, and this bill is sort of an answer to that by providing some guidance about how that money can be spent."

Max Webster, Midwest policy manager for the American Farmland Trust, said many state-run conservation programs don't incorporate findings from the state Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. He explained the bill would compel the programs to use those findings in their work.

"And we can have a greater assurance that the resources that we're dedicating to this problem are actually going to solutions," Webster asserted. "Things that are reducing nutrients over the long term."

Illinois is one of 12 states which have committed to cutting the size of the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone in half by 2035. The bill has been referred to the Senate Agricultural Committee.

Disclosure: Illinois Environmental Council contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Rural/Farming, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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