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Illinois is at the intersection of the great aquatic systems of North America. Our borders are largely defined by the big rivers of our continent, and the Illinois River is a major component of the upper Mississippi River watershed. Thousands of small prairie streams, and wetlands that have escaped draining and filling, many still in excellent condition, make up the headwaters of these rivers. Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for half of Illinois.

Most of Illinois' waters have been severely impacted by development, agriculture, industrial pollution, and alien, invasive species. Fortunately, a few pristine examples remain to remind us of what they all used to look like. And, thanks to the Clean Water Act and actions and investments by many in recent decades, most of our polluted waters are steadily getting healthier.

Sierra Club's Illinois Clean Water Campaign is focused on expediting the cleanup of our waters, protecting those that remain in good condition, and ensuring safe, reliable water supplies for drinking water and wildlife. We use the law, grassroots organizing, public education, and volunteer water testing to fight for cleaner water in Illinois.

Invasive Species
Resources & Contacts:

Colleen Smith
Cindy Skrukrud
Jack Darin

Protecting Lake Michigan from Asian Carp

The discovery of Asian Carp on the brink of Lake Michigan has focused attention on the threat posed by alien species moving between the Great Lakes and the Illinois/Mississippi River system. We are working for solutions that permanently protect the Great Lakes, while continuing the recovery and cleanup of the Chicago River system and minimizing collateral damage to wildlife in those waters.

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Separating The Basins

Hydrologic separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins is the only permanent solution to the problems of interbasin invasive species transfer. Expedited consideration should be given to hydrologic separation of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which will require consideration of both the sanitary and navigational purposes now being served by the Canal.

Sanitary and Wastewater Issues

Consideration should be given to treating wastewater at the North Side and Calumet wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) sufficiently so that the water could be returned to the Great Lakes. Assuming it is necessary for wastewater from the Stickney WWTP and the Tunnel and Reservoir Program (TARP) to continue to go to the Des Plaines River system, the water could travel through pipes to Lemont or Lockport, ultimately downstream of the separation point within the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC).

Navigational Impacts

Navigational impacts would need to be addressed if the CSSC is hydrologically separated from Lake Michigan, which is ultimately essential. However, the navigational impacts will be limited, depending on where the hydrologic separation is placed; and they can be addressed and mitigated through use of appropriate intermodal facilities and other means. It is critical, in assessing the economic cost associated with hydrologic separation, that a careful study be made of transportation options, and that studies not be aggregated in a manner that conceals the real choices. How much cargo actually has to move from the Cal-Sag Channel into the open waters of Lake Michigan? How much traffic actually needs to travel between Lockport and the confluence of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal Sag Channel? How much of that traffic consists of moving coal to the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations which are on target for closure within the next 5-10 years anyway? Given that much of the traffic that moves through the CSSC now consists of aggregates that move some distance by truck, what are the real costs of establishing truck loading stations at different locations than the current ones?

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Fighting Pollution
Resources & Contacts:

Cindy Skrukrud
Jen Hensley
Colleen Smith

Cleaning Up Nutrient Pollution

Phosphorus and nitrogen are nutrients that are necessary for life, but an overload of them causes major problems for our waters.ÝNutrient overload causes algae blooms that suck oxygen out of the water, choking fish and other aquatic life.

Nutrient pollution comes from many sources - fertilizers, soaps, and sewage treatment plants are the major ones. Weíve passed legislation in Springfield to ban phosphorus from dishwashing machine detergent and commercial lawn care services (link to P bill video). We are working for statewide nutrient pollution standards, to guide efforts to clean up the problem. We work with cities and towns to upgrade their sewage plants to include nutrient controls and to reduce nutrient pollution from urban runoff.

Fighting for Tougher Limits on Water Pollution Permits

Illinois EPA has issues permits to discharge pollution into our waters. Whenever a new one is proposed, or an existing one comes up for renewal, we work with our allies to examine it and look for opportunities to eliminate, prevent, or reduce pollution.ÝIf the discharger is not willing to do their best, we object to the permit and take legal action, if needed. We also check up on polluters after permits are issued, and if they are violating the law, take them to court to force cleanups. We also monitor and comment on permits to destroy or modify wetlands, streams, or other waters.

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Coal Mine Pollution
Resources & Contacts:

Cindy Skrukrud
Joyce Blumenshine

Fighting Water Pollution from Coal Mining

Using coal for energy isnít just causing air pollution and climate change - it is also polluting Illinoisí rivers and groundwater, and destroying wetlands and farmland. With partners like Prairie Rivers Network and citizen groups from coal-impacted communities throughout Central and Southern Illinois, we review plans for new and expanding coal mines and work to stop adverse impacts on water quality, streams, wetlands and farmland. We press the federal and state agencies which must review and issue permits for mining activities and mined land reclamation to not cut corners in implementation of mining regulations.

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Water Sentinels
Resources & Contacts:

Fran Caffee
Cindy Skrukrud

Water Sentinels - Volunteers Keeping an Eye on Our Water

Sierra Clubís Water Sentinels are volunteers in communities across the state who regularly test their local rivers, lakes, and streams for pollution. When we find problems, we use the data we collect to call attention to them, and to devise solutions. When we find good water quality, we know weíve found a resource worth protecting, and we work with local communities to ensure that clean water continues for the future.


We need your help to protect Illinoisí rivers, lakes and streams. Here are a few ways you can help:
  • Join a Water Sentinels team near you
  • Join our Great Lakes team to stay up to date about our Asian Carp and other efforts to protect Lake Michigan
  • Make a donation to support the Illinois Clean Water Campaign!

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