Watch now: Illinois boosts funds for farm runoff strategies

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BRENDEN MOORE

Illinois has some of the most valuable soil on earth. Fertilizers keep yields high. Now farmers are playing a crucial role in making sure our water remains safe. "The result of runoff: What’s being done to keep our water clean" explores the different stakeholders in an ongoing issue.



SPRINGFIELD — Hoping to meet lofty goals to reduce nutrient runoff into the state’s waterways, Illinois lawmakers have increased funding toward conservation programs and, for the first time, dedicated funds to the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy

The fiscal year 2022 budget, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday, once again allocates $14 million toward Partners for Conservation, which funds key conservation programs at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources. 

Of that, nearly $1.1 million has been dedicated to the state EPA for administering the NLRS, the first time such funds have been dedicated.

Lawmakers also doubled the amount dedicated for soil and water conservation districts to $15 million, including $3.5 million for costs associated with nutrient loss strategies. 

"I would say it’s a step in the right direction; it’s a pivot away from stale, stagnant and declining funding, which has been the story for conservation in the state for the past two decades," said Max Webster, Midwest policy manager with American Farmland Trust.

"It’s not to the level where we need to start seeing progress made on a lot of our goals, but it’s the right signal at the right time," he said. 

Lee Enterprises newspapers in a three-part series this spring chronicled the extensive effort to rein in farm runoff. The reporting showed ongoing problems. 

Niantic farmer Mike Stacey uses a variety of tools to control nutrient runoff from farm fields.





David Proeber




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The NLRS, adopted in 2015, guides the state’s efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads in its lakes, streams and rivers. The strategy also overs a "comprehensive suite" of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff.

Illinois is among many states in the Mississippi River basin with such strategies, as runoff is considered a major contributor to the large hypoxic "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

But for years, state funding and — consequently — matching federal funds have lagged. And the state is nowhere close to meeting its 2025 goals. In some cases, nutrient loads have increased since the adoption of the NLRS. 

Funding for each program only runs through fiscal year 2022.

Farmer Jason Lay has a legacy to protect in his farm as he manages field runoff.





David Proeber




Legislation proposed earlier this year would have ramped up funding to $25 million by 2027, a target Webster said advocates will try to get back to next year.

"That’s kind of what we’re looking towards, is can we get back to that point $25 million a year target for this kind of work? And in that, be able to successfully leverage additional matching dollars from the federal government and private sources," he said. "And that’s how we start getting to a scale necessary to make some serious progress on nutrient loss reduction goals."


Photos: State and local officials depend on farmers to lead effort against field runoff

DEC DAY 3 – DOMINANT

Niantic farmer Mike Stacey looks out over a field that employs no-till farming methods on May 10. By anchoring the soil and employing water retention areas, farmers can reduce runoff of nutrients, as well as top soil, from water supplies.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



DEC DAY ONE – DOMINANT

Niantic Farmer Mike Stacey on May 10 walks across a field that employs no-till farming methods. Farm runoff has been an ongoing issue in Illinois for years.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



MAT DAY 3 – INSIDE

Farmer Mike Stacey stands against a contour planted field. He has farmed the plot for 50 years. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



DEC DAY ONE – SECONDARY

Root systems from corn harvest last year intentionally litter Niantic Farmer Mike Stacey’s fields. The no-till farming methodology anchors soil and nutrients that would be otherwise washed away by older plowing methods.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



DEC DAY 3 – SECONDARY

Niantic Farmer Mike Stacey is shown on his property. The state is seeking to reduce nitrate loads by 15% and phosphorus loads by 25% by 2025. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



DEC DAY 3 – SECONDARY

An auger and corn bins wait for harvest on Niantic farmer Mike Stacey’s farm. Stacey is employing a variety of methods to reduce farm runoff or nutrients and top soil.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE – BLM DAY ONE

Farmer Jason Lay takes a break from cutting a drainage channel on his farmland near Danvers on May 7. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



SECONDARY – BLM DAY ONE

An aerial photo of farmer Jason Lay’s land shows a planter working around green area designed to reduce agricultural runoff near Danvers on May 7. The green areas catch nutrients and topsoil that would normally runoff into streams and the water supply if not carefully managed.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



DOMINANT – BLM DAY ONE

Farmer Mark Hines seeds a field east of Bloomington. He employs a variety of methods, including no-till harvest and plowing, to reduce agricultural runoff, which has been an ongoing issue across the U.S. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE – BLM DAY ONE

Farmer Mark Hines’ planter kicks up field debris as he seeds a field east of Bloomington on May 7. The state for years has been working to stem nitrogen runoff from farm fields. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE – BLM DAY ONE

Farmer Jason Lay uses a plow to adjust a ditch that will control water runoff on his farm near Danvers on May 7. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



BLM DAY 3 – INSIDE

Farmer Mark Hines seeds a field east of Bloomington. Hines employs a variety of methods, including no-till harvest and plowing, to reduce agricultural runoff.




DAVID PROEBER



DOMINANT

The Bloomington Public Works Water Division is located on Lake Bloomington and produces drinkable water for the city. Dealing with farm field runoff is a concern for plant workers, particularly when water levels on the lake are low.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE

The marina at Lake Bloomington is shown May 7. 




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



052221-illinois-runoff-4part2

The Bloomington Public Works Water Division is located on Lake Bloomington and produces drinkable water for the city. Dealing with inevitable farm field runoff is a concern for plant workers, particularly when water levels on the lake are low.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE

The dam that creates Lake Bloomington, at left, allows the Bloomington Public Works Water Division to draw from the lake and produce drinkable water for the city.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



052221-illinois-runoff-5part2

Inhabitants around Lake Bloomington, pictured here May 7, are also regulated as authorities monitor household runoff.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



BLM DAY 3 – DOMINANT

Farmer Jason Lay studies a drainage channel on his farm land near Danvers on May 7. The state is falling short on its nutrient load reduction goals.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



INSIDE – BLM DAY ONE

Farmer Jason Lay maintains his equipment cutting a drainage channel on his farm land near Danvers on May 7. Lay said the ecologically sound techniques amount to good stewardship, and that results in profits for his labor.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



BLM DAY 3 – INSIDE

Farmer Jason Lay cuts a drainage channel on his farm land near Danvers. A state plan seeks to cut the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in state waterways by 45%.




DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH



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June 18, 2021 at 06:43AM

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