A new report indicates the issue of nitrates in Illinois drinking water may be larger than previously thought.
The Prairie Rivers Network, the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, has issued the report titled Illinois’ Ignored Water Crisis: Preventing Nitrates from Contaminating Illinois Drinking Water. In it, the organization finds that, since 1980, over 322-thousand people in Illinois have been exposed to nitrate levels in their drinking water that exceed federal standards. Macon County is the most affected area in the state, where 77.6% of residents on public water systems have been exposed to elevated
nitrate levels exceeding the federal standards at least once.
Catie Gregg, Agricultural Programs Specialist with PRN, explains that agriculture is one of the largest contributors to nitrates finding their way into drinking water. She says despite recent steps in the right direction with the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy there's still a lot of work to do.
According to the report, the instances of communities dealing with elevated nitrate levels are increasing. Gregg also notes that communities are at times dealing with levels that don't exceed federal standards, but yet those levels are still believed to cause adverse health effects.
Gregg believes farming operations are the first line of defense in the fight against nitrates. She says local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and other federal programs, offer incentives to bring nutrient management practices onto the farm. However, Gregg notes those agencies and conservation funding are under attack in the current political climate.
Gregg says edge of field practices, such as filter strips, or in-field practices, such as cover crops, are ways that Illinois' ag sector can help to limit the amount of nitrates finding its way into drinking water.
Increasing numbers of central Illinois communities, like Decatur, Moweaqua and Taylorville, have had to purchase expensive nitrate treatment facilities to reduce nitrate levels in their community water supply. The Prairie Rivers Network believes conservation is a much less costly way to improve the state's water quality.