By Kate Abendroth
Intern, Environment Illinois
The Rock River Basin defines life in western Illinois. In fact, it houses every type of ecosystem that can be found in Illinois. From the days of Native American settlement to modern times, the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers have provided a source of wonder, livelihood and recreation.
Unfortunately, the Rock and “Kish” are now being subjected to increased pollution thanks to two Supreme Court decisions that opened loopholes in the Clean Water Act. Fifty-seven percent of Illinois’ streams, some of which feed and clean the Rock and “Kish,” are at risk as a result of these two decisions (SWANCC vs. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006).
Subsequent George W. Bush administration procedures allowed polluters to dump waste into certain small streams and wetlands without any of the protections the Clean Water Act requires. As a result, enforcement against waste discharges and wetlands destruction is often impossible.
In May, the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a polluter-backed proposal to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers from providing desperately needed clarity about whether the Clean Water Act protects important headwater streams and wetlands from pollution or destruction.
Though the Senate arrived at the right decision, it is disappointing Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R) supported the “dirty water” amendment. I worry that if his crucial vote continues to swing toward pollution, then forests, wetlands and prairie along the shores of the “Kish” will continue to suffer.
Western Illinois residents understand the negative effects waste dumping can have on rivers. In 1988 and 2007, large meat companies dumped so much waste into the “Kish” and Rock, respectively, that some fish populations were almost entirely wiped out.
The unfortunate truth is that this type of dumping is still going on. Because of the loopholes in the Clean Water Act, polluters can still dump waste into our rivers through their tributaries. In fact, the EPA documented agricultural contamination in the “Kish” just last year. And if protections are not restored to the streams that feed the “Kish,” the river otter, yellow-headed blackbird and osprey could go extinct.
Sen. Kirk needs to know his constituents care about the Rock and “Kish,” and we don’t want to see him choose polluters’ interests over the health of our environment again. Sen. Kirk should support efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections to Illinois waterways.
The Rock and Kishwaukee rivers are the most beloved natural resources of western Illinois. We cannot allow our senator to vote for pollution and put the interests of polluters before those of the people.
Kate Abendroth is an intern at Environment Illinois in Chicago.
From the July 3-9, 2013, issue