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Water and Energy

June 16, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Ecological consequences of the ongoing devastating Gulf oil spill will continue to unfold for decades. According to a recent article in USA Today, the best-case scenario is that the surface oil gets trapped in the loop current and slowly dissipates into relatively inert tar balls. If surface oil escapes the loop, it will reach the Florida panhandle and flow up the Atlantic Coast. Extensive ecological damage has already occurred, as indicated by economic losses to the tourism, recreation and seafood industries. The extent of ecological damage from the oil in deeper waters and the ocean bottom is not known and will take years to be documented.

The Gulf and other water resources have been suffering ongoing incremental ecological damage from ever-expanding human activities for a very long time. The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is an area of low-oxygen levels at the mouth of the Mississippi River that has at times reached up to 7,000 square miles. Such dead zones, known as hypoxic, occur around the globe, but the Gulf’s is the world’s largest. It is a response to nutrient enrichment, particularly from nitrogen and phosphorus, drained from watersheds within the Mississippi River basin. Nutrients enter rivers from fertilizer runoff, eroded soil, animal wastes, urban runoff and sewage.

Nutrient overloading leads to algal blooms that, in turn, die, depleting oxygen and reducing biodiversity of affected areas. The overall process has been linked to massive fish kills. Human actions in the Rock River basin contribute to the decline of the Gulf ecosystem while inflicting local environmental damage.

Communities within the Rock River basin including Oregon, Mt. Morris and Polo are upgrading their sewage treatment plants to be in compliance with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency standards. Such actions will improve water quality in the Rock River basin. A reduction in lawn fertilizers, especially phosphorus, would also improve water quality, as would improved farming practices.

Water is important to industries in the Rock River basin. It is consumed in the production of ethanol and biodiesel fuels. It is also used to cool thermal power plants from which local waters are lost through evaporation. Energy and water consumption are closely linked. We need to conserve both resources and use them more efficiently.

Several presentations at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair will address the importance of the Rock River to the economy of the area. Results of this year’s July 31 Rock River Sweep cleanup will be presented by organizers. Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, will present his concept of a Rock River Trail from its origins in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, to the the Quad Cities, where the Rock River flows into the Mississippi. His intent is to build a trail system for driving, hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking the river. Tom Lindblade, professor emeritus, College of DuPage, will make a presentation on canoeing and kayaking opportunities in Illinois.

Making use of local resources for low- or non-fossil fuel recreational activities helps to save energy, provides participants with wholesome activities and reconnects them with their natural heritage while alerting them to the need for conservation.

While the Gulf gusher is a sudden, dramatic ecological tragedy, local human activities inflict ongoing low levels of ecological damage, which, over time, have major adverse effects on ecosystems, human health and economic well-being.

Major sponsors of the fair include the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, The Rock River Times and ComEd.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the June 16-22, 2010 issue

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