Bob & Tom’s Excellent Adventures: Saving the Illinois River

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The Illinois River, for a lot of people it’s a pleasant part of the scenery.

For others, it’s a recreational highway. A place to cool off after work, to wind down after a long week. Whichever it is, it’s a long way from what it used to be.

“At one time the Illinois River was the most productive mussel stream in North America,” says Doug Blodgett from the Nature Conservancy. “It was the most productive inland fishery.”

The Illinois River of today doesn’t even look the same as your great-grandfather’s river.

By putting in locks and dams to aid commerce, the Illinois River was tamed. No longer would there be annual flooding or drought. The river slowed, broadened and began filling with silt.

Outside the navigation channel, much of the Illinois River is no more than three feet deep. The only thing that seems to thrive is the Asian Carp. But, after years of talking and planning there could be changes ahead.

On the Upper Mississippi River –in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent millions of dollars on dozens of river restoration projects to create fish and plant habitats, which the Corps says have shown great results. The Illinois River is part of that Upper Mississippi system.

Several years ago, the Nature Conservancy, the Heartland Water Resources Council and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission formed the Peoria lakes Basin Alliance as a way of tapping into those federal dollars. But, state matching dollars have been in short supply in recent years.

“We’re thinking about public/private partnerships,” says Blodgett. “How can organizations like the Nature Conservancy help be partner in these projects to put them on the ground?”

The Peoria Lake Basin Alliance has been quietly looking for partners with a view to changing the Illinois River. It’s something that could be years away.

But Peorians are changing their riverfront.

Maybe they’ll go along with changing their river as well.

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