Clean water groups highlight progress for Apple River, call for more success stories

Environment Illinois

Chicago, IL – On the heels of the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report tells the story of how the bedrock environmental law has helped to restore and protect the Apple River, where citizens banded together to protect the river and Apple River Canyon State Park from efforts to construct two factory farms within the river’s watershed.

Clean water groups released Waterways Restored, a series of case studies compiled by Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center, to highlight the need for a new rule to restore protections for 55% of the state’s rivers and streams.

“The Clean Water Act has brought triumph to the Apple River, but the law’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled,” said Wouter Hammink, organizer with Environment Illinois.  “All of our rivers and streams deserve a success story.”

Citizens in Illinois rallied to protect a river flowing through natural canyons and a state park from efforts by an out-of-state businessman to build two factory farms within the river’s watershed. A dogged legal battle using the Clean Water Act stopped these polluting facilities from being completed, a victory for this local river, according to the Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center report.

“By stopping this animal factory before it became operational, we were able to protect not just our ground water, which supplies residents and family farmers with drinking water, but also preserve the pristine Apple River, which is a popular tourist destination and tributary to the Mississippi,” said Matthew Alschuler, President of HOMES.

While the Apple River is guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, too many of Illinois’ rivers and streams are not, due to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loophole. But oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are campaigning bitterly against it, and last month the U.S. House voted to block the rule.      

Advocates at today’s event, however, stressed broad support for the proposal from environmental groups, farmers, small businesses, and ordinary citizens. More than 500,000 public comments supporting the rule were delivered to EPA officials today in Washington, D.C.

“We have been waiting for this proposed rule for a long time because it will protect small streams and wetlands from pollution and destruction,” said Stacy James, Water Resources Scientist at Prairie Rivers Network.

While the Apple River is getting cleaner, polluters still dump over 6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways statewide each year. Protection from pollution and development for the smaller streams that flow into the Apple River, advocates said today, is crucial to protecting the river for future generations.

“The only way to continue the on the path to success is protect all the rivers and streams that flow into it,” said Hammink. “That’s why it’s so important for EPA to restore protections for all the waters that crisscross our state.”

staff | TPIN

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