Water resources are so interconnected that we cannot hope to protect our iconic waterways – the Mighty Mississippi and Great Lakes – without also protecting the steady streams and neighborhood lakes that feed them.
What is ELPC Doing?
ELPC public interest attorneys regularly represent grassroots clients in cases and policy campaigns to protect various Midwest rivers and lakes from mining pollution, agricultural and urban runoff, wastewater discharges, and other sources of pollution. For example:
- Reducing Runoff from Urban and Rural Sources. Federal environmental laws do an adequate job regulating individual “point-sources” of pollution – discharges that can be measured as they come out of specific pipes, stacks and other identifiable industrial equipment. It does not, however, cover “non-point” sources of pollution like runoff from rural farms, suburban lawns and urban parking lots. Runoff pollutes our waterways with excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other materials that cause major water quality problems. In our local lakes, it causes excess algae that blooms into stinky and sometimes toxic masses that can decrease property values, disrupt tourism and water recreation, and harm aquatic life. It pollutes our rivers and drinking water sources. And, eventually, it flows to the Gulf of Mexico where it contributes to the “dead zone” effect.Every state in the Midwest has at least some non-point pollution control programs, but the details and effectiveness of them varies widely. ELPC has worked with The Mississippi River Collaborative to evaluate each state’s efforts to reduce non-point source pollution. Our 2010 report, Cultivating Clean Water, provides a comprehensive analysis of these programs and recommends effective strategies that all states can adopt. ELPC and the Collaborative continue working throughout the region to advance these strategies on several fronts. Our attorneys and advocates are working at the state level to develop reasonable, measurable standards for reducing excess runoff through a combination of “stick and carrot” policies that lead to effective adoption of best management practices. Additionally, our legal and policy experts are engaging with U.S. EPA to press for federal or regional guidance on more widespread phosphorus and nitrogen standards.
- Challenging Bad Permits & Permit Enforcement. ELPC’s legal experts review the water pollution permits issued to power plants, wastewater treatment facilities, coal mines and other industrial sources. This watchdog role ensures that our state environmental agencies are writing permits in line with federal Clean Water Act requirements. When appropriate, we challenge the agency to improve the permits – and to enforce them. For example, ELPC attorneys are working to strengthen the water pollution permits issued to Midwest coal mines, which have historically been “rubber stamped” by many of our state environmental agencies. Once those permits are issued, we are playing a close watchdog role to ensure that those permits are enforced – often challenging both the coal mine and the state environmental agency before state environmental courts. Read more about our efforts related to Indiana’s Bear Run Coal Mine and Illinois’ Industry Coal Mine on our dedicated clean water websites.
- Telling the Clean Water Story. ELPC has created a suite of innovative new education and advocacy websites that put a human face on the water quality issues in several states – Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota. These sites combine powerful, professional storytelling that weaves together personal stories, technical data and historical information in articles, photos and videos with interactive tools that allow users to add their own stories and photos and take action on important issues.