State Legislators Tour Innovative Nature-Based Solutions in the Mississippi River Watershed
June 13, 2023
Legislators learn the benefits of tile-treatment wetlands as they seek solutions for water quality and flooding
On Monday, June 12, four state legislators from Illinois participated in a tour of tile-treatment wetlands to learn firsthand about natural solutions to combat nutrient pollution and promote sustainable agriculture. Experts from The Wetlands Initiative, Mississippi River Network, Ducks Unlimited, the Illinois Corn Growers Association, the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, and other stakeholder groups met with the legislators to discuss the importance of supporting these conservation practices through policy and ways to innovatively do so by leveraging state and federal funding opportunities.
As the Mississippi River watershed continues to experience historic rates of nutrient pollution and flooding, the need increases for natural solutions that improve soil health, reduce flooding, and address pollution runoff. In a state such as Illinois where agriculture is such a significant sector of the economy, legislators understand the connection between agricultural drainage tiles, nature-based solutions, and the environment.
This landowner’s tile-treatment wetland site is an innovative model for how various small-scale natural infrastructure projects can help promote sustainable agriculture, increase soil health, and improve water quality in the entire watershed.
“One thing I have learned today is the importance of wetlands in capturing chemical runoff, said Illinois State Senator Dave Koehler. “We know that wetlands are able to prevent nutrient loss, which if not captured, goes into the Illinois River and the Mississippi River, all the way to New Orleans. I think it’s imperative that Illinois steps up its game and makes more programs available for partnerships with farmers and landowners, so that we can really get ahead of the curve of this problem. To be able to come out into the farm areas and see wetlands being developed is very inspiring. I am glad to see each of the four legislative caucuses participating in this event today. This is a bipartisan issue and it needs to have bipartisan solutions.”
“It’s fun just to come out and see how this is coming together, the energy and excitement about wetlands and what’s going on in this local area in here in Livingston County,” said Illinois State Senator Tom Bennett. “This is one of several that they have and so I’m going to reach out to see what the other wetlands might look like, the ones that are a little bit older, just to kind of compare. I’m looking forward to seeing and learning more as we go forward.”
“It brings awareness to us as legislators of anything that we could possibly work on as a state legislator and getting some laws together to promote the use of wetlands and the importance of it,” said Illinois State Representative Jason Bunting. “Public perception and public awareness of the importance of wetlands and how we’re trying to reduce the nitrogen going down the stream and getting to the Gulf of Mexico is extremely important. Not only is it important for farmers to make sure we keep our nutrients in the ground to help our crops, but also the fact that we can slow it down and get it away from creeks.”
“This was a great opportunity for legislators to experience the importance of nature-based solutions firsthand,” said Dylan McDowell, Executive Director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. “It’s our hope that touring these wetlands can serve as an inspiration and give them firsthand knowledge for effective policymaking. We look forward to seeing new collaborations that are spurred from this event.”
“We appreciate the legislators coming out and seeing this small farm-based wetland, as it is one example of the type of conservation practices needed to reduce Illinois’ nutrient runoff,” said Dr. Jill Kostel, Senior Environmental Engineer, The Wetlands Initiative. “State and federal funding programs are needed to support our Illinois farmers and landowners as they work to build healthy soils and to improve water quality.”
The event was a part of the Mississippi River Network’s River Days of Action.
“River Days of Action unites us in support of the health and resilience of our Mississippi River and raises awareness about the issues that impact the River from the Headwaters to the Gulf,” said Kelly McGinnis, Mississippi River Network Executive Director. “This tour shows just how what we do in one part of the Mississippi River can have an impact on the whole watershed.”
The tour was organized by MRLC staff in partnership with the Mississippi River Network and The Wetlands Initiative. The MRLC was established to better coordinate state legislators in the states bordering the Mississippi River around river health and sustainable infrastructure development.
The Mississippi River Legislative Caucus is a project of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). Created by and for state legislators, NCEL is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes over 1,200 environmentally-committed state legislators from all 50 states and both parties. NCEL provides venues and opportunities for lawmakers to share ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.