Think Globally, Act Locally – Helping Beyond Northeastern Illinois

The Conservation Foundation focuses its work in DuPage, Kane, Kendall, and Will Counties, and goes where needed in LaSalle, DeKalb and Grundy Counties.  But the benefits of its efforts go far beyond northeastern Illinois.  In this post, we will look at how The Conservation Foundation’s activities affect the Mississippi Basin all the way downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

What The Conservation Foundation Does

The Conservation Foundation works in many collaborative and innovative ways to improve water quality in our local streams. Over the years we have built strong relationships with communities and proven ourselves as a leader in river and watershed protection through programs like:

  • Providing technical staffing and support to local watershed management groups
  • Coordinating opportunities for people to participate in protecting clean water like the RiverSweep, Stormdrain Stenciling and Conservation@Home
  • Leading the Fox River Initiative – connecting people to the Fox River through art and education
  • Tailoring our programs through our Conservation In Our Community Program to fit a communities needs and strengthen a conservation culture
  • Expanding the Salt Smart Collaborative to provide a regional clearinghouse of resources for reducing road salt use while maintaining public safety
  • Working with developers to encourage stormwater best management practices and provide for long-term, funded management of those practices through our Natural Areas Assurance Program

Over the years, our water quality efforts have focused on the DuPage, Fox and Des Plaines River and Salt Creek watersheds – all of which are parts of the Mississippi Basin.

Mississippi Basin

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent.  From its traditional source of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, it flows generally south for 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi’s watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains.  The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi, of which only about ninety-nine percent is in the United States. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest river and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

 

The Mississippi River has the world’s fourth-largest drainage basin (“watershed” or “catchment”). The basin covers more than 1,245,000 square miles, including all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.  The drainage basin empties into the Gulf of Mexico, part of the Atlantic Ocean. The total catchment of the Mississippi River covers nearly 40% of the landmass of the continental United States.

Elevated levels of nutrients and sediment can impact the quality of life for the tens of millions of people who live in and rely on the Mississippi River Basin. Elevated nutrient levels are also contributing to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic (low oxygen) zone. To address these water quality concerns and agricultural sources of nutrients and sediment, farmers and conservation partners are working together to implement conservation practices that help trap sediment and reduce nutrient runoff to improve the overall health of the Mississippi River.

 

Why The Conservation Foundation Efforts Matter Elsewhere

 

Why do The Conservation Foundation’s efforts matter elsewhere?  Because stuff flows downstream.

 

As previously stated, The Conservation Foundation has worked on the DuPage River, Fox River, Des Plaines River, and Salt Creek Watersheds – all of which flow into the Mississippi Basin.  The DuPage River progression is > DuPage River > Des Plaines River > Illinois River > Mississippi River > Gulf of Mexico.  The Fox River and Des Plaines River progress via the Illinois River; and the Salt Creek progresses via the Des Plaines River.  All these rivers are connected and what you do affects those downstream systems.

The Conservation Foundation works in many innovative ways to protect and improve the health of our local rivers and streams.

 

For example, The Blackberry Creek watershed plan provides recommendations to reduce fecal coliform bacteria from entering the streams and other water quality protection efforts; implementation of education and outreach efforts to local stakeholders including farmers; and incorporation of land use best management practices to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff.

 

Another example is the annual DuPage County River Sweep, a county-wide self-coordinated stream cleanup and restoration event.  The purpose of the River Sweep is to encourage volunteers to help “sweep our rivers clean” by picking up debris in and along the local waterways and restoring nearby land back to its natural state.

 

Sometimes a simple reminder is all we need to help us do the right thing. That is the premise behind storm drain stenciling. Volunteers stencil Dump No Waste – Drains to River on storm drains in the hopes that seeing this message will make people a little more careful about what they allow to enter their storm drains and potentially into rivers.

 

These efforts not only affect the immediate area in Northeastern Illinois but also affect other areas of the Mississippi Basin by removing nutrients, sediment, waste, and invasive species that can flow downstream.  Ultimately, this works to improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce costs of wastewater treatment, and ensure viability of agricultural lands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

In addition to all this, The Conservation Foundation has preserved more than 35,000 acres of land, most of that along our local rivers and streams. When we preserve natural lands, that leads to improved water quality. Open space = clean water!

Ready to make things better in Northeastern Illinois and beyond?  Well, watershed preservation is what The Conservation Foundation does every day.  We can all do more together than we can alone.  Join our collective momentum – Become a member today!

Feel free to comment on this blog with additional ideas you have on how land conservation provides economic benefits.

By Steve Stawarz, Oak Brook
DuPage County Advisory Council Member

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