SPRINGFIELD --- Two major Illinois watersheds and an interstate segment
of the Middle Mississippi River watershed have been nominated by Gov. Rod Blagojevich as contenders for federal funding to address Gulf Hypoxia---the so-called Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”---by reducing farm chemical washoff from farm fields in agricultural states including Illinois--- that will also benefit Illinois farmers and waterways.
The nominations of the Kaskaskia River and the Upper Sangamon watersheds and the
Mississippi River segment that borders Illinois and Missouri have been submitted by Gov. Blagojevich to U.S. EPA for consideration under a federal Watershed Initiative program that could provide grants up to $1.3 million each for efforts that target short term environmental results and demonstrate the potential for long term maintenance.
“This U.S. EPA funding initiative seems particularly appropriate for Illinois,” the Governor said in announcing the nominations.
“The existence of the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is a national problem that must be addressed--- Illinois is one of 31 states that drain to the Mississippi River and the Gulf. The second part of U.S. EPA’s special emphasis, on market-based proposals, is also a good fit with my administration’s focus on economic development,” Gov. Blagojevich added.
An excess of farm nutrients (primarily contained in fertilizer applied to fields and then washed off by rains) carried to the Gulf by the Mississippi River has been blamed for the existence of a large and growing area within the Gulf that supports no aquatic life.
“These proposals would provide better water quality, reduce an existing national environmental problem, and allow Illinois farmers to market their produce in an environmentally friendly manner while still showing a profit,” said Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Renee Cipriano.
The Governor noted that both the Upper Sangamon and the Middle Mississippi proposals support pollution trading that would provide economic benefits to Illinois agriculture by more effective use of crop nutrients, particularly nitrogen. While these nutrients increase crop yields, excess amounts that are not taken up by crops can be washed by rain and snow melt into rivers and streams where they promote the growth of algae that harms aquatic plants and animals by using the oxygen they need to survive.
Gov. Blagojevich’s nominations seek $1,289,904 for the Upper Sangamon River watershed that includes more than 900 square miles in seven counties above Lake Decatur in central Illinois; $819,300 for the Kaskaskia River watershed, the largest watershed lying entirely within Illinois; and $1,293,087 for the Middle Mississippi project. This project would involve only “batture” lands---- unprotected lands inside levees along the Mississippi in both Missouri and Illinois. These areas suffered the most serious damage during the 500-Year Flood in 1993.
Applicants were limited to two intrastate projects, in addition to an unlimited number of interstate projects.
The current federal proposed budget would provide approximately $21 million for the U.S. EPA Watershed Initiative program that is now in its second year. In announcing the call for nominations, U.S. EPA identified the Gulf Hypoxia issue and an emphasis on market-based approaches as carrying particular weight in determining which projects will be funded.
Gov. Blagojevich’s nominations note that both these goals are significant parts of the Upper Sangamon and the Middle Mississippi watershed proposals.
Crop production accounts for approximately 87 percent of the land use in the Upper Sangamon River watershed and extensive use of tile drainage in the watershed has been identified as providing agricultural benefits but is also a source for erosion and nutrient losses.
The 292- mile long Kaskaskia River impacts 22 Illinois counties. Agricultural use, both row crops and livestock production, make up 82 percent of its use but the watershed also contains the largest contiguous hardwood forest in the state.
Typical awards are expected to range from $300,000 to $1,300,000. Nominated projects will be evaluated by U.S. EPA on their innovation, measurable environmental results, broad support from representative interests, comprehensive outreach efforts and financial integrity.