Some People I Know

In last week’s “Ramblings” fellow Citizen columnist Jim Matthews, writing about the water situation in Flint, Michigan, stresses “Let us not be deceived. With enough selfishness and neglect, what happened in Flint, can happen anywhere – even here.”

True that. Things often go awry when we take things for granted. Such as when we drop cubes in our glass from the freezer, walk over and flip on the tap, fill a glass with ice water and drink it on down.

We never even think twice about the people out there working behind the scenes to be sure that what happened in Flint won’t happen here.

So let me tell you about some people I know.

Most of us in and near Mahomet know that our water, whether from the Village of Mahomet or Sangamon Valley, is drawn from the Mahomet Aquifer, not the Sangamon River.

Good for us. So what could go wrong with that?

Plenty, and for nearly 10 years now, George Wissmiller has been a driving force behind “Clinton Watch,” a citizen group that effectively stopped plans to site a PCB-storing chemical waste landfill over our aquifer.

And in March of 2015, George, Clinton Watch, and several area municipalities including Mahomet, were instrumental in securing EPA “sole source aquifer” designation for the Mahomet Aquifer that will preclude any new or expanded landfills over our aquifer for generations to come.

But what of the Sangamon? We don’t drink the Sangamon River, but they do downstream in Decatur, which isn’t fortunate enough to sit atop the Mahomet Aquifer like we are.

And that means that anything we put in the river here can end up in the tap water there.

Downstream in Decatur, water treatment plant operator Keith Alexander is charged with removing, at taxpayer (or ratepayer) expense, anything anyone upstream puts in the river that isn’t H20. And since a significant part of the operating revenue for water treatment comes from grants from the state, we ALL pay some part of this expense.

This is precisely the issue in Flint. The more polluted the water, the more taxpayer dollars it takes for Keith to remove the pollution (or to draw water from an entirely different source). In the interest of saving taxpayer dollars in Flint, the pollution issue was apparently cast aside.

So how bad is the Sangamon? I’m glad you asked.

Here in Mahomet, Citizen Scientist, USRC President and Village Board member Bruce Colravy heads up the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy’s Riverwatch program, which for 6 years now has been continuously monitoring the quality of the water in the Sangamon River.

Riverwatch monitors 8 sites on the Sangamon River and its tributaries every spring for the presence of macro-invertebrate species (aka bugs) whose presence or absence indicates the health of the Sangamon River. Different “indicators” point to the levels of sedimentation, and nutrient and toxic pollution.

The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center recently compiled a 5 year trend report from Bruce’s Riverwatch site just downstream of the covered bridge at Lake of the Woods. While showing that the river consistently rates as “excellent” all 5 years on one measure, it has gone down slightly.

We’re good for now, but if things continue to decline, Bruce’s Riverwatch program would be the first to sound the alarm.

And as crucial as monitoring and pollution removal is, doesn’t it make much more sense not to pollute the river in the first place?

While the Sangamon lacks the manufacturing industries that existed along the Flint, there are two main contributors to river contamination in our area: sewage treatment facilities and agricultural runoff.

To that end, the Village Board of Mahomet has recently invested in upgrading its water treatment plant with the help of a $13.5 million dollar state grant and $1.7 million contribution from the Village.

So now Mahomet can proudly claim that the phosphate discharge from the sewage treatment plant into the Sangamon just below the railroad trestle south of Mahomet is well below state standards. And this has reportedly been with a minimal use of added chemicals to the water. Compare this to the recent wastewater treatment crisis that happened during the recent flooding downstream in Monticello that put raw sewage into the Sangamon. Kudos to the leadership of our Village in prioritizing river protection!

And, last but certainly not least (at least not in my world) is my wife Carol, Executive Director of Prairie Rivers Network, a locally based organization working to protect rivers and waters across the state and throughout the Midwest.

Carol is leading Prairie Rivers Network in its work with area farmers, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other interests in a program designed to encourage voluntary adoption and implementation of measures to reduce agricultural nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment runoff.

Such measures include planting cover crops during the winter months, maintaining grassed waterways in drainage areas through fields, and planting buffer strips between ag fields and waterways. This winter, she’s been getting very excited every time we drive past green farm fields planted in cover crops! It’s that much less nitrogen going into waterways.

When we all turn on that tap, we like to assume that we can sit back, relax and drink it on down. And thankfully, we can.

But this is thanks to the efforts of people I am fortunate enough to know like George, Keith, Bruce, Carol, and the Village of Mahomet along with many, many others who are working to protect and defend our right to a clean, safe glass of ice water – and at minimal taxpayer expense.

And if I may quote Jim again, “I’ll drink a glass of water to that.”

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, January 28, 2016, by Scott Hays

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