Advocates Make Clean Water Front and Center at the Capitol

It is no secret that we have a serious water quality issue in Illinois due to nutrient loss and runoff.

To bring light to the situation, improve water and soil quality, and move our legislators towards taking a leadership role in the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS), Illinois Stewardship Alliance hosted a Mini Soil Health and Water Quality Lobby Day on May 23. The Alliance welcomed 11 professionals from the American Farmland Trust, the Issac Walton League, Prairie Rivers Network, Mississippi Rivers Network, and the IL Environmental Council, which are all committed to improving water quality and soil health.

Nutrient pollution threatens Illinois’ agriculture economy, drinking water, and natural habitats. To help battle nutrient pollution, a strategy was developed by the Illinois Water Resource Center- Illinois Indiana Sea Grant, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. This Strategy is a framework for using science, technology, and industry experience to assess and reduce nutrient loss in Illinois waters and the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy guides state efforts to improve water quality with best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban agriculture runoff.

Our coalition spoke to two dozen legislators from both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. We informed our legislators, answered their questions, and asked for their support on three different priorities, with the central goal of protecting our land and keeping our water clean.

The first priority is fully funding Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) at $13 million. SWCD’s play a central role in sustaining our natural resources by protecting our soils and water resources through conservation efforts. SWCD’s are severely underfunded and need the support in order to continue their efforts and carry out new plans and strategies to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy Illinois’ precious natural resources.

The second priority requests state legislators to sponsor the recent Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Resolution (HR 1120/ SR 1775). This resolution asks for legislators to support the NLRS and the work of stakeholders to form working groups, collect data, and provide outreach and education to farmers and the public in order to reduce nutrient run-off without burdensome regulation. Support from legislators will help stakeholders further their work and attain the Strategy’s goal of reducing phosphorus loads by 25% and nitrogen loads by 15% by 2025.

Lastly, priority number three seeks to attract more federal investment in Illinois by ensuring all eligible Illinois land is covered under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP provides federal dollars to help restore flooded and environmentally sensitive cropland. Nearly half of Illinois’ eligible land is covered and for every $1 we invest, the state receives $4 in federal matching funds.

The Mini Lobby Day was successful in garnering 8 co-sponsors for the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy bill! But most of all, it proved how powerful we are when we band together.

Advocates speak with legislators at the Capitol to ask for support for the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to keep Illinois waters clean.