Midwest Lakes & Rivers

Beyond the mighty Mississippi and the Great Lakes, the Midwest is blessed with thousands of other lakes and streams, and each is important to local communities in a myriad of ways. Our water resources are also interconnected. Beyond the visible lakes and rivers there are underground aquifers, floodplains, and marshlands that stitch together our watery region. This interconnection is beautiful, but it can also pose challenges if pollutants or invasive species spread from place to place and threaten other ecosystems, economies, and communities.

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:

  • 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. For example, read more about our efforts related to Indiana’s Bear Run Coal Mine and Illinois’ Industry Coal Mine.
  • Reducing Runoff from Urban and Rural Sources. Environmental laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to “non-point” sources of pollution like runoff from rural farms, suburban lawns, and urban parking lots. Excess nitrogen, phosphorous, and other materials cause major water quality problems like harmful algae blooms, which can even include toxic microcystin bacteria. Lake Erie was overwhelmed with such algae in 2014, causing the Toledo water supply to be shut down for three days. As the climate warms, carbon proliferates, and stronger rains flood more runoff pollution into Midwestern waterways, scientists expect more algal blooms across the region. It’s a widespread issue reaching from little lakes in Iowa to Green Bay in Wisconsin, and even Lake Superior has been affected in recent years. ELPC is fighting for strong water quality standards and pollution limit enforcement in state legislatures, at the EPA, and in the courts.
  • Fighting back against Clean Water Rule rollbacks. When the Clean Water Act was written in 1972, everybody agreed it granted federal protection to navigable lakes & rivers to. Though many other marshes, bogs, swamps, & rivers, some of which only flow seasonally or after rain, also benefited from federal protection, they were not clearly defined. After a couple of Supreme Court cases, the EPA under the Obama Administration wrote the Clean Water Rule to clear up the confusion. Often known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS), the 2015 rule defined protected waters as any water that had a “significant nexus” or connection with a navigable water. Developers and polluters are now pushing Trump to roll back this rule, which would remove protection from 51% of the nation’s wetlands and 18% of streams that serve as stormwater buffers, pollution filters, & wildlife habitats. It would also bring confusion for landowners who might have to pay to dig into the water table to determine whether the source of their waterway.


Mapping the nation’s ephemeral streams affected by new WOTUS Trout Unlimited

What causes algal blooms?  Indiana University Center for Earth & Environmental Science

Cultivating Clean Water ELPC (2010)

Land Use Tools to Protect Groundwater 1-4 ELPC (2011)

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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