Nearly every drop of rainfall that hits Illinois flows west and down to the Mississippi Gulf, carrying with it our soil and our runoff nutrients. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution comes from wastewater treatment plants, industrial sources — and from fertilizers and manure from farms.
This nutrient runoff has lead to a “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico estimated to be 6,000 square miles or the size of New Jersey. The problems aren’t just downstream — nutrient pollution has degraded quality and safety of drinking water in many Illinois communities.
To fix the dead zone in the Gulf, Illinois joined 10 states along the Mississippi to draft a Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) to layout how the state will voluntarily reduce our runoff pollution. The plan aims to decrease the state’s phosphorus load by 25% and the nitrogen load by 15% by 2025. The future goal is to decrease both loads by 45%.
One way to reduce nutrient runoff from farmland is by using conservation practices that build healthy soil. Healthy soil can better filter water and retain more nutrients, rather than it wash downstream.
A report by the Delta Institute in Chicago (LINK), indicated that Illinois leases leases over 75,000 acres of public land to farmers. Illinois Department of Natural Resources leases 35,000 acres alone. Many of those lands are along the state’s most sensitive waterways, parks and natural areas. But the agricultural leases don’t require tenants take basic conservation measures to prevent nutrient pollution.
We are urging state agencies to require conservation on public lands leased for farming. As one of the largest landowners, the state of Illinois can model the measures that landowners can take to protect soil health and water quality. By establishing conservation practices on the 75,000 acres leased by Illinois, the state will be in a much better position to achieve the goals in the NLRS.
Requiring conservation measures on public farmland will not only benefit the ecosystem in the Gulf, it will greatly improve livelihood, protect our drinking water, and the ecosystem right here.