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Illinois in the 21st Century: Science for Natural Resource Management - The Scientific Surveys are pooling their expertise to attack major environmental problems facing Illinois
ISSUE: Watersheds, Wetlands, and Rivers

Along the Illinois River, urban development and drain tiles from crop lands have increased runoff into the river. Sedimentation is high, and backwater lakes on the river have lost much of their depth. Barge traffic and manipulation of water levels below the dams complicate the ecology of this watershed.

Focus of studies:

  • how ecosystems function,
  • how species survive as conditions change,
  • point and non-point source pollution,
  • what works to control erosion, sedimentation, and pollution,
  • impacts of stresses and outcomes of improvement strategies.

ISSUE: "Smart Growth" Science-Based Decisions for Development and Resource Protection 

Of the 11 1/2 million people in Illinois, more than 9 1/2 million live on only 5 3/4 % of the state's land.
Rapidly expanding urban/suburban populations put pressure on the use and protection of natural resources: water, air, soils, native plants and animals, open areas, and nature preserves.

Focus of studies:

  • how to manage ecosystems disturbed by human activities,
  • how to restore the ecology,
  • methods to clean air, water, and soil,
  • mapping natural resources.
Integrated watershed management Survey researchers collaborate on complex water and land resource problems such as erosion and sedimentation in rivers, lakes, and wetlands; water quality in streams and lakes; potential sources of contamination; and restoration of wetlands and aquatic habitats.

Public/private ecosystem partnerships to restore and protect watersheds Reports help local public/private partnerships restore and protect their environment. Last year's reports on the Illinois River bluffs, Spoon River, Driftless Area, Lower Rock River, Sinkhole Plain, and Sugar River Pecatonica watersheds describe the minerals, rich soil, and groundwater that sustain life in these areas; how geology controls the distribution of plant and animal communities in each watershed; and the effects of land-use practices on erosion, sedimentation, and water quality.

Eco-mapping Each of 22 public/private partnerships received a large-format land cover map of its area. Analyses and maps, compiled with the Department of Natural Resource's (DNR) computerized Geographic Information System, display information about land cover, wetlands, watersheds, natural divisions, and publicly owned areas of ecological significance to the partnerships.

Wetland-do not disturb! When road building runs into wetlands, the law requires restoration or replacement. The Illinois Department of Transportation depends on the Surveys to assess the biology and hydrogeology of wetlands, then predict the impacts of roadways on these vulnerable sites. Multiyear projects are active at 35 sites throughout the state, including Champaign, Clinton, Du Page, Lake, Marion, McHenry, Will, Perry, and the Metro-East St. Louis counties.

Environmental mapping and assessment in rapidly urbanizing regions To guide development around Chicago, East St. Louis, and other metro areas, Survey researchers locate and assess water, mineral, and energy resources; identify potential hazards (sinkholes, raves, unstable slopes, undermined and flood-prone areas); and evaluate the contamination potential of water and soils. The concern is to avoid building over, or polluting, the natural resources so valuable for today and the future.

Competing interests for land: one example Kankakee County's economic council asked the Surveys to assess an area of sand dunes for its potential as high-quality silica and/or feldspar deposits for mining, and as a unique ecosystem and habitat for species that should be protected in a nature preserve. The economic and environmental assessments will be available for making land-use decisions.

Dynamic watershed model A Survey developed, computerized model uses physically based equations to simulate propagation of flood waves and transport of sediments and agrichemicals. The flood-wave component was tested during storms in the Big Ditch area of the Lake Decatur watershed.

Strategic renewal of large river floodplain ecosystems An integrated dynamic simulation model, based on hydrologic, ecologic, and economic submodels, is being used to identify policies that improve the biodiversity and productivity of the floodplain ecosystem, without compromising the region's economic viability.

Long-term federal/state resource watch This cooperative project has five study stations on the upper Mississippi River and one station on the Illinois River; the project is in its 14th year of operation. Each station uses standardized procedures and equipment to assess status and trends in water quality, fish, vegetation, and macroinvertebrates in part of the river. Earlier studies provided baseline data on the geology and hydrology.

Contaminants in Illinois River sediments threaten water quality and natural habitats Survey scientists are analyzing sediment samples from a number of sites within the Illinois River and backwaters above Peoria. These analyses will determine the concentration of heavy metals, pesticides, and organic chemicals. The results will help determine which restoration options are environmentally safe and whether dredged materials may be used beneficially.

Peoria Lake habitat rehabilitation This bioresponse project operates from a mile-long island windbreak sheltering aquatic plants. Dredging opened a side channel, and several moist-soil units were built to provide waterfowl food. Researchers have sampled fish populations in the area, resurveyed the forested wetland management area, and surveyed aquatic plants behind the island.

Watershed experiment: Site M DNR's 16,000-acre site in the Illinois River watershed is a living "laboratory,' especially for erosion/sedimentation control. GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping helped identify areas that should be removed from cultivation, farmed with special techniques, or planted in grasses that stabilize soil.

Loosestrife invasion of wetlands Purple loosestrife, an exotic European species, is destroying the native ecological balance of wetland habitats. Nearly 400,000 leaf-eating beetles, used by Survey researchers in the battle to control purple loosestrife, were shipped to 50 wetland sites.

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