Assessing Progress on the 1997 Integrated Management Plan for the Illinois River Watershed

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The Illinois River Watershed (IRW) encompasses approximately 44 percent of the land in Illinois. The watershed plays a prominent role in supporting the ecological structure and function of natural resources of the state by providing a habitat for fish and wildlife, giving recreational opportunities, producing fertile floodplain soils, and providing a resource for drinking water to human and animal inhabitants as well as water for irrigation of agricultural lands and industrial uses. Participants in the development of the 1997 Integrated Management Plan (IMP) for the Illinois River Watershed determined that the success of the plan could be measured against these seven objectives:

  • Objective 1: Healthy levels of abundance, distribution, and diversity of plant and animal communities.
  • Objective 2: Restoration of highly eroded streams: 1 percent by the year 2000; 10 percent by the year 2010.
  • Objective 3: In all stream segments, the attainment of water quality standards and, every 10 years, a 10 percent improvement in the Index for Biotic Integrity (a state index of biodiversity related to water quality).
  • Objective 4: Reduction of the river’s deviation from the natural hydrograph (volume, depth, and duration of water flows).
  • Objective 5: For floods with 2-5 year frequencies, reduction of peak flows to the river by 2-3 percent.
  • Objective 6: A viable economy that enhances the ecological value of the watershed through high-quality job creation.
  • Objective 7: A measurable reduction of the amount of sediment entering the Illinois River and its tributaries.

The plan also listed 34 recommendations, some of which included detailed goals on how to achieve these objectives.

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor asked the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI) to review and report on the progress that has been made toward these objectives over the past 20 years based on PRI’s data and studies. As home to the state’s five scientific surveys, PRI offers diverse scientific expertise and perspectives and a wealth of long-term data on Illinois’ resources.

Although PRI conducts many monitoring and research studies directly related to these seven objectives, no dedicated funds were set aside by the state in 1997 to achieve those objectives. Since then, however, some progress or monitoring has been conducted with targeted programs, and some has been a side benefit of other programs. This report is an attempt to evaluate the 20-year progress on the objectives based on a compilation of existing PRI data sources, status and trend summaries, and monitoring and research efforts conducted in accordance with PRI’s mission. From this evaluation, PRI has also identified a number of recommendations for future studies of the Illinois River Watershed that would enable a more complete picture of progress in the coming years and expand on the objectives to cover areas of concern not included in the IMP in 1997.

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