BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois contributes 20 percent of the
nitrogen and 11 percent of the phosphorous that reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
Representatives from agricultural and urban areas have a plan to keep those
A draft proposal developed by the Nutrient Reduction
Strategy Policy Working Group in partnership with the Illinois Environmental
Protection Agency will be available for public comment on the EPA’s website for
30 days beginning in mid-July.
The final Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy will be
provided to the U.S. EPA in September.
The goal is to reduce phosphorous by 25 percent and nitrogen
loss by 15 percent by 2025. Implementation will continue until the loss for each
nutrient is reduced by 45 percent.
Reducing nutrient loss would not only benefit nearby water
quality, but also reduce the hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico where excessive
nutrients lower oxygen levels to the point where the area can no longer support
The policy working group comprised of representatives from
agriculture, government, environmental groups and wastewater technical
assistance providers was formed to formulate the action steps for the strategy
documentation, using the science assessment results to craft an action plan that
is effective and implementable.
For science-based decision-making, the University of
Illinois conducted a statewide assessment of the current conditions and
practices affecting nutrient losses in Illinois water to identify baseline
nutrient loading conditions, current practices, critical watersheds, potential
nutrient reductions under various scenarios and cost estimates for
The study found that 82 percent of all nutrients entering
waterways are from agricultural sources, 16 percent from wastewater treatment
plants and other urban point sources and 2 percent from urban runoff.
For nitrates, 80 percent is from ag sources, 18 percent from
point sources and 2 percent from urban runoff. Phosphorous sources are split
nearly 50-50 between agriculture and non-point sources.
“The researchers also determined where the agriculture and
non-point sources are located in the watersheds. This helps us understand where
we start focusing our attention and focusing our practices,” Marcia Willhite,
Illinois EPA’s Bureau of Water chief, told farm leaders at Illinois Farm
Bureau’s legislative roundtable.
“The U.S. EPA is interested in seeing the strategy documents
from the states in the Mississippi River Basin. They are concerned about the
issue of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. That is one of their high-profile
Programs In Place
Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau director of natural and
environmental resources, said the strategies, including building on existing
programs already used by farmers, and the initiative will reinvigorate land
conservation practices and reinvigorate education on nutrient management
Lurkins noted the various state and federal programs already
available through the state agriculture department, EPA and NRCS that promote
nutrient management, as well as the efforts by the Illinois Council on Best
Management Practices, Keep It for the Crop by 2025 and Illinois Nutrient
Research and Education Council.
“It’s our opportunity to demonstrate that voluntary
conservation does work,” Lurkins said.
“The progress will be reviewed every two years. The strategy
is a living document. The research that NREC does and the new programs will all
have to be updated on a pretty regular basis. It sounds like the stakeholder
group will reconvene every five years for a report on progress and keep
everybody in the loop.”