The Environmental Protection Agency is deciding on new standards that could cut down on algae in Illinois lakes and rivers thanks to a federal court ruling. The algae are due to nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, which until now has been left to the states to manage. The court ruled that it’s the EPA’s responsibility to develop a plan within the next six months that could include new pollution limits.
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While the court case dealt with algae levels in the Mississippi River, Kim Knowles, staff attorney for the Prairie Rivers Network, says the decision could help waterways like the Illinois River. “It’s also a big problem in almost Illinois lakes,” Knowles said. “Most, if not all of them, are impaired by too much phosphorous and nitrogen.” Knowles says that the standards would affect pollution from sewage treatment plants. Plants have fought such standards, pointing out that runoff from livestock manure and chemicals sprayed on crops on farms contributes to the problem.
“Their argument is, you know, ‘We’ve done so much, it’s time for them to do more.’ Unfortunately, the Clean Water Act doesn’t give anybody the power to do that.” The decision requires the EPA to determine only whether pollution limits are necessary. While acknowledging there’s a possibility that the EPA will enact no new standards, Knowles believes that’s unlikely.