River Prairie Group-Sierra Club releases study on DuPage County streams

  • Cover of the report on the West Branch of DuPage River.

    Cover of the report on the West Branch of DuPage River. Courtesy of Bob Barbieri

Submitted by Bob Barbieri
Posted12/25/2020 1:00 AM

The River Prairie Group, a local group of Sierra Club, released their latest report on the quality of streams in DuPage County. The report, "DuPage County's Rivers -- A System on the Mend," illustrates water quality monitoring done by the group and puts it in context of other work in DuPage River and Salt Creek watersheds and the rest of the state of Illinois.

The study shows that water quality in DuPage County streams continues to reflect the urbanization of the county.


In particular monitoring shows elevated levels of nitrate and phosphate. These nutrients come from fertilizer runoff and discharge from wastewater facilities. The nutrients feed algae and aquatic plants which cause low levels of dissolved oxygen or big fluxes in dissolved oxygen which are detrimental to aquatic life.

The group also found chloride levels that often violate national aquatic life criteria due to road salt use in the wintertime. Additionally, the report summarizes the work done by state, county and municipalities to improve water quality. Finally, the report highlights the work done by the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, in conjunction with several DuPage County agencies, municipalities and the RPG, to increase the health of the waterways through river habitat restoration. One of the best methods of river habitat restoration is through dam modification or removal.

"The condition of DuPage streams is not unique," said Jack Darin, director, Illinois Sierra Club. "With public agencies and Sierra Club volunteers looking out for the health of local waterways and working together to enact science-based solutions to problems, they are working for healthy streams in DuPage County and setting an example to follow throughout the state for addressing similar threats."

The Sierra Club supports municipal and county efforts to reduce salt usage and community engagement to reduce fertilizer runoff and to avoid coal tar-based driveway and parking lot sealers. We also support efforts by the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup to restore area streams to a more natural and healthy condition.

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The RPG river monitoring network is one of a number of Sierra Club Water Sentinel groups in Illinois.

Water Sentinels work to protect, improve and restore our waters by fostering alliances to promote water quality monitoring, public education, and citizen action. The group's river monitoring network is entirely volunteer-run and this report is a result of over a decades' worth of monitoring and involvement in local environmental planning efforts.

"The report is important for the volunteer water collectors and testers because it gives meaning to the data so they are not just a bunch of numbers generated month after month," said Bob Barbieri, Water Monitoring Project Administrator for the RPG's River Monitoring program. "Collectors get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, rain, snow or shine and drop a bucket over the bridge then deliver the samples to the tester for analysis. The report puts problems in the spotlight, honoring the volunteers' contribution."

The report highlights St. Joseph Creek, a tributary of the East Branch of the DuPage River, noting its low nutrient levels which are seldom observed throughout the rest of the watershed. The group says that its excellent water quality would make it a perfect candidate for restoration.

They also note that that St. Joseph Creek and other streams often have high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which come from coal-tar based road sealants and are carcinogenic. The report recommends a ban on toxic sealants as well as a ban on phosphorus-containing fertilizers and suggests increasing vegetative buffers and using green infrastructure practices to protect DuPage County waterways from pollution. There is still much work to be done at the federal, state and local level to improve water quality in Illinois and downstream in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

A copy of the report can be found at www.sierraclub.org/illinois/river-prairie.

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