Clean Water

Richard Sitler / The Southern Illinoisan

No permits for horizontal hydraulic fracturing have been issued since the Illinois Department of Natural Resources started taking applications in the fall of 2014. Even so, there were some in Grayville who believed that a well was fracked in October under the new law. 

Howard A. Learner
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois has become a start-and-stop clean energy and environmental leader making great progress in some areas, but hitting too many self-imposed roadblocks. The recent legislative session likewise reflects both accomplishments and frustrations. Here are some glass half-full and half-empty examples: 

South fork of the Apple River in Jo Daviess County
Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards

Matthew Alschuler couldn’t believe his eyes. The South Fork of the Apple River near his home in Jo Daviess County was flowing in front of him, and it was the color of grape Kool-Aid.

His first thought last fall was of the nearby unfinished “mega-dairy” that was somewhat operational. “He’s done it again,” Alschuler says he thought. “We’d complained about previous discharges before, but this was just staggering. The guy doesn’t even have cows there yet.”

Barges go between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Fairy tales aside, ugly ducklings don’t become beautiful swans — biology just won’t have it. Likewise, transforming a sewage canal into a lush and lazy river may be a bit unrealistic. At least that’s the position of Chicago’s sewage handlers when it comes to disinfection and recreation on the city’s manufactured waterways. 

Chad Pregracke is a man on a mission. Raised “10 feet from the river” in Hampton near East Moline, he grew up with the Mississippi as his playground. As a teenager, he worked in its silt-filled bottoms as a mussel diver and quit college to be a commercial fisherman. But his passion for wanting his view of the river free from debris has led to his life’s work. At 34, he is director of the nonprofit foundation Living Lands & Waters, and as such, he and thousands of volunteers over the past 15 years have collected tons of trash from the banks of the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers.

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Tricia Krause asked Crestwood residents to tie color-coded ribbons around their trees to demonstrate the village’s “epidemiological cancer map.”

“And, therefore, it would show the significance of how many people are sick in the village — because there are so many,” she says.

Four years ago, Yorkville, a growing community of 6,189 people in north-central Kendall County, faced a guessing game over how to make its local water supply safe to drink. 

New standards for radium were under discussion at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Getting a jump on improvements before they were handed down could save money in the long run. But guessing what the standards would be was financially risky. 

It seems a shame to ask such a question in the great state of Illinois, where Powell grew to maturity and developed the values and ideas that shaped an incredible career. Unfortunately, the question will prove a poser to the vast majority of the state’s residents, who know nothing of this pioneer scientist, heroic war veteran, steely eyed explorer, consummate Washington bureau chief and visionary environmentalist. 

Illinois has much to learn from this foster child of the prairies. Yet we have forgotten him.