WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Preventing a Dead Zone in Western Illinois

Macomb, IL – Western Illinois residents are being asked to help come up with a plan to prevent Spring Lake from becoming a dead zone.

Loka Ashwood, PhD student, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Spring Lake has 59% too much phosphorus. An abundance of phosphorous in waters can lead to the death of fish and plant life.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has identified it (Spring Lake) as being in danger of having toxic algae blooms which would then kill the fish in the lake and the plant life," Ashwood said.

Spring Lake is Macomb's water source. Ashwood said the water can be treated so it is not harmful to humans. But Macomb residents would end up paying more to cover the cost of that treatment.

Ashwood, who grew up in western Illinois, has been in Macomb to oversee a series of public meetings that have included farmers, academics, and other citizens.

"It's really what we consider a democratic process," Ashwood said. "This is where the people in the community and on the land make the decisions about what happens."

Ashwood says they're looking for long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. She said there could be money available to help farmers implement practices that would prevent phosphorous from entering the watershed through field run-off.

"One of the discussions has been, for example, growing cellulosic bioenergy (grass with a deeper root stock) as a way to filter the water and to keep phosphorus on soil. Phosphorous naturally attaches to soil particles," said Ashwood.

She said farmers came up with that idea. Other community members suggested the grass could be used to provide local energy while making more money for local farmers and cleaning the lake.

The next public meeting will be held Thursday, July 22, at the new Spoon River College campus on East Jackson Street in Macomb. It begins at 5:30pm and is open to the public. In fact, the plan is to bring together farmers, government leaders, and other citizens during the meeting.

Ashwood believes all the elements are in place for change to happen.