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Excess Nutrients

Public comments on the draft Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy were taken from November 24, 2014 through January 25, 2015.  

Below are the comments received by the Illinois EPA in response to the draft Strategy.

The impact of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in Illinois rivers, lakes, streams and the Gulf of Mexico is a very high profile water quality issue. Under the right conditions, nutrients can cause excessive algal blooms, low oxygen and nuisance conditions that adversely impact aquatic life, drinking water and recreational uses of the water.

The following presentations were given during the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Panel Discussion at the Illinois Water 2014 Conference in Champaign:

Nutrients can come from many sources, including:

  • Fertilizers from agriculture, golf courses, and suburban lawns
  • Erosion of nutrient-rich soils
  • Discharges from industrial and sewage treatment plants and
  • Failing onsite septic systems.
  • Deposition of atmospheric nitrogen

In other words, most aspects of modern society contribute to this pollution problem. The proportion of loading to a particular waterbody from these sources varies from watershed to watershed, and includes  point sources and  non-point sources, in both urban and agricultural landscapes.

Illinois EPA hosted meetings in 2010 for stakeholders representing government, environmental groups, municipal and industrial wastewater dischargers, agricultural groups, academia, non-governmental organizations and consulting firms with an interest in the topic of nutrient pollution. This was the beginning of a collaborative, problem-solving process to craft a Statewide Nutrient Reduction Strategy to address excess nutrients in Illinois waters and the Gulf of Mexico.

March 2013 Strategy Development Kick-off Meeting

On March 11, 2013, Illinois EPA hosted a meeting of stakeholders to announce that development of a statewide Nutrient Reduction Strategy was beginning. Approximately 100 attendees were present, representing the agricultural community, wastewater dischargers, environmental groups, government, technical assistance providers and academia. Attendees were welcomed by Warren Goetsch, Illinois Department of Agriculture, who identified that the 2008 Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Action Plan includes development of statewide nutrient reduction strategies by states in the Mississippi River Basin. A presentation was given by Dr. Mark David, University of Illinois, outlining a science assessment that will identify baseline nutrient loading conditions, current practices, critical watersheds, potential nutrient reductions under various scenarios, and cost estimates for implementation. Finally, Marcia Willhite, Illinois EPA, gave a presentation that summarized current Illinois programs addressing nutrient pollution and the USEPA framework for state strategies.

University of Illinois Science Assessment

The University of Illinois began conducting in March 2013 a scientific assessment to support an Illinois Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This project will compile a comprehensive statewide assessment of the current conditions and practices affecting nutrient losses to Illinois waters. The assessment will identify and assess nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) inputs and management practices, including current cropping practices, phosphorus losses, develop nutrient balance to understand the direction of soil pools, identify and estimate point source influences and determine total nitrogen, nitrate, total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus loads leaving the state annually. A report will be developed outlining costs and associated load reductions, including a discussion of effectiveness expectation for each practice identified. The project will identify critical watersheds that will be used by nutrient strategy developers to prioritize watersheds in Illinois for implementation. The project will also include the development of scenarios for reductions that might be achieved, costs of implementing each scenario and percent of reduction achieved by each scenario. The first project report was submitted on July 1, 2013, and results will be presented at the first Policy Working Group meeting.

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group

The task of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group will be to formulate the actions steps for the strategy document, using the results of the science assessment, to craft a strategy (action plan) that is effective and implementable. The Policy Working Group will consist of several representatives from various sectors: agriculture, government, environmental groups and wastewater technical assistance providers. The Policy Working Group will focus on the following tasks:

  • Identify potential scenarios for reducing nutrient losses through existing tools/programs
  • Identify implementation organization
  • Identify the approach to point source reductions in watersheds with high contribution of nutrients to the Mississippi River
  • Identify the approach to “accountability and verification”, especially for non-point sources
  • Identify the approach to annual reporting
  • Identify the approach to promoting identified BMPs in order to maximize widespread implementation throughout a priority watershed
  • Identify the approach to prioritizing and targeting funding for implementation
Member Affiliation
Kay Anderson American Bottoms Regional Wastewater Treatment
Tim Bachman Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District
Howard Brown Illinois Council on Best Management Practices
Dr. George Czapar Illinois State Water Survey, Center for Watershed Science
Dr. Mark David University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
Ivan Dozier USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Albert Ettinger Attorney
Stacey James Prairie Rivers Network
Jim Kaitschuk Illinois Pork Producers Association
Bradley Klein Environmental Law and Policy Center
Lauren Lurkins Illinois Farm Bureau
Rick Manner Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District
Dr. Greg McIsaac University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
Nick Menninga Downers Grove Sanitary District
Alec Messina Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group
Emerson Nafziger University of Illinois Extension
Rich Nichols Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Jean Payne Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association
Cindy Skrukrud Sierra Club
David St. Pierre Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Rod Weinzierl Illinois Corn Growers Association
Warren Goetsch Illinois Department of Agriculture
Marcia Willhite Illinois Environmental Protection Agency


Urban Nonpoint Source

Point Source

Ag Nonpoint Source

Other State Nutrient Reduction Strategies

States continue to develop state nutrient reduction strategies that contain tailored methods for reducing nutrients in their state. While some states continue to work on completing draft and final documents, some states have already completed their strategies:

Meeting Announcements

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, August 8, 2013: Illinois EPA Headquarters

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, September 18, 2013: Asmark Agricenter, Bloomington

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, October 18, 2013: Sangamo Training Room, IEPA Headquarters, Springfield

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, November 13, 2013: NRCS Illinois State Office, Champaign

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, January 15, 2014: Asmark Agricenter, Bloomington

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, February 19, 2014: Illini Center, Chicago

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, March 19, 2014: Illinois Department of Agriculture, Springfield

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, April 16, 2014: Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District Office-Urbana

Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group, May 19, 2014: Illinois EPA Headquarters-Springfield

Planned Discussion Topics and Goals for Future Meetings/Subcommittees

Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force and Action Plan

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force was established in 1997 to understand the causes and effects of eutrophication in the Gulf of Mexico; coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration; and ameliorate the effects of hypoxia. Activities include coordinating and supporting nutrient management activities from all sources, restoring habitats to trap and assimilate nutrients, and supporting other hypoxia related activities in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico watersheds.

The role of the Task Force, which includes federal and state agencies, is to provide executive level direction and support for coordinating the actions of participating organizations working on nutrient management within the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed.

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force released the 2008 Action Plan, which describes a national strategy to reduce, mitigate and control hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin.

The 2008 Action Plan greatly increases accountability and specificity through the inclusion of an Annual Operating Plan and Annual Reports to maintain and track progress between reassessments, state-led nutrient reduction strategies, complementary federal strategies, and an outreach plan to engage many stakeholders.

Eleven key actions in the 2008 Action Plan outline critical needs to complete and implement nitrogen and phosphorus reduction strategies, promote effective conservation practices and management practices, track progress, reduce existing scientific uncertainties and promote effective communications to increase awareness of Gulf hypoxia.

Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative

Through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other federal and state agencies work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat and sustain agricultural profitability in the Mississippi River Basin.

NRCS has identified the Mississippi River Basin as a top priority due to water quality concerns, primarily related to the effects of nutrient loading on the health of local water bodies and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

The 13-state initiative builds on the cooperative work of NRCS and its conservation partners in the basin, and offers agricultural producers in priority watersheds the opportunity for voluntary technical and financial assistance. The participating states are Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The initiative will build on the past efforts of producers, NRCS, partners, and other state and federal agencies in the 13-state initiative area by addressing nutrient loading in priority small watersheds within the Mississippi River Basin. The Illinois watersheds that were selected are:

  • Lower Illinois-Senachwine Lake
  • Upper Illinois
  • Vermilion River (Upper Mississippi River sub-basin)
  • Vermilion (Upper Ohio River sub-basin)

State Nutrient Priority Watershed Maps

Illinois EPA recognizes Nutrient Priority Watersheds as a priority for planning and plan implementation every year. The criteria used to identify these watersheds included: guidance from U.S. EPA, and waters used as public water supplies that have approved Total Maximum Daily Load studies for Nitrate and Total Phosphorus.

Keep It for the Crop (KIC) by 2025

KIC by 2025 is a unified education and research program that encompasses Illinois commodity groups and agricultural organizations, agricultural input suppliers, the agribusiness industry, Council of Best Management Practices, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the University systems in Illinois and Illinois EPA. The Illinois agricultural industry and farmers are working collectively in the Nutrient Priority Watersheds to improve nutrient efficiency and reduce losses of nutrients by implementing enhanced nutrient stewardship practices with a goal of achieving acceptable water quality in Illinois surface waters and those waters leaving the State.