Governor signs law promoting cleaner water, better farming practices

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs legislation Aug. 20 enacting new programs to help Illinois farmers reduce waste of fertilizer and resulting water pollution. (Photo provided)

Staff Report

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed legislation Aug. 20 enacting new programs to help Illinois farmers reduce waste of fertilizer and resulting water pollution. The governor signed House Bill 5539 on Agriculture Day at the Illinois State Fair.

Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, said, “Nutrient pollution is Illinois’ most widespread water pollution problem, but helping farmers use fertilizers more effectively will bring cleaner water to rivers, lakes and streams across Illinois.”

Farmers apply nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to maximize crop yields. When more nutrients are applied than crops can take up, extra nutrients often wash into rivers and streams in the rain. The excess nutrients fertilize algae in waterways, which leads to explosions in algae populations. These algae populations create foul-smelling, pea green water, and suck oxygen out of the water that fish need to breathe, often leading to fish kills.

The new law will create the Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC) to provide scientific expertise and new funds to help farmers use fertilizers most effectively, minimizing the amount that runs off into Illinois waters. A new fee on commercial fertilizers will fund research and a grant program to help farmers deploy best practices for reducing fertilizer runoff.

An active Nutrient Research and Education Council will be a real asset to Illinois’ overall efforts to clean up nutrient pollution,” said Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, clean water advocate for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, who will serve as a member of the new council. “Efforts like these to help farmers implement solutions are an important part of an overall strategy that includes steps to also reduce nutrient pollution from all major sources, including sewage treatment plants, urban runoff and agriculture.”

The new legislation is a product of a unique collaboration among Sierra Club, other clean-water advocates and agricultural organizations. These groups are often at odds over how to reduce nutrient pollution, but worked together to create these new programs. Now, farmers will have access to the most up-to-date knowledge on fertilizer application, increasing crop yield, and preventing nutrient leaching. Less water pollution means safer water for drinking, fishing, swimming and aquatic wildlife.

These new tools will help farmers make smart decisions about fertilizer application, and that will reduce pollution in our waterways,” Darin said. “We know farmers want to be part of the solution to water quality problems, and now they’ll have access to resources and technical expertise to do so.”

From the Aug. 22-28, 2012, issue

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