- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LEWISTOWN, Ill. (AP) - The Emiquon Preserve, a vast wetland along the Illinois River, is abundant with otters, muskrats, pelicans and bald eagles - but the environmental group that owns it believes it needs to be recharged. That has some worried that problems plaguing the river will affect the Emiquon.

The Nature Conservancy is building a complex, $6 million system of pumps and concrete that would connect the 7,000-acre Emiquon back to the river it’s long been separated from by a levee.

The group says the Emiquon, about 200 miles southwest of Chicago, is already having problems that it hopes the controlled influx of river water might help. It also hopes the project can serve as a model for wetlands restoration around the world, said Douglas Blodgett, director of the organization’s Illinois River Program.

“Emiquon is a wonderful place,” he told the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1LtmEFC ), “but it’ll be the best it can be when it’s influencing other places in the Midwest and around the world.”

The Illinois is in far better shape than it was decades ago when Chicago’s sewage flowed into it, but it’s far from pristine. And critics fear those problems will flood into the Emiquon. That includes the hungry, fast-breeding Asian carp, which can push its way into the food chain and force out native species, said Brent Manning, former director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“My concern runs very deep,” he said. “There are just a lot of things that can go wrong. The best defense we have are the current levees that are in place.”

The Nature Conservancy started restoration work in 2007, and native species have thrived. More than 260 types of birds and 35 fish species have been found, not to mention about 200,000 migrating ducks, geese and other water birds, according to the Illinois Natural History Survey.

The preserve includes 5,000 acres of water and is part of about 14,000 protected acres of land and water along the Illinois that are both privately and federally owned.

Blodgett and the Nature Conservancy say that a range of plants, insects and fish that once lived in the river have been cut off by the levees. The conservancy believes the river also could benefit. For instance, the Emiquon wetland could absorb and filter its heavy sediment.

Mike Conlin, the retired head of Illinois’ state fisheries, led an online petition drive to try to push federal officials to deny funding for the Nature Conservancy’s plans. He says the conditions the Nature Conservancy hopes to engineer existed in 2013 when the Illinois flooded and flowed into an area known as Spunky Bottoms, near the Emiquon.

“The result has been a complete loss of submerged aquatic vegetation, fish kills, extremely degraded native fish community, and now a rearing area for Asian and common carp,” Conlin wrote in a letter with the petition.

But the Chicago-based Wetlands Initiative backs the plan after what executive director Paul Botts called “difficult conversations” about it.

“If they’re wrong, it could be really bad for a whole lot of us,” he said. “But, if they’re right, it could be really positive for a whole lot of us. I feel that somebody has to try.”

___

Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide