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Why you should care about natural resources in Illinois

You probably don't think Illinois has much to offer in the natural resource department. We don't have soaring mountains or endless oceans, but Illinois's natural resources probably impact your life more than you think.

I am not going to argue with you about whether or not our sliver of Lake Michigan, the Shawnee National Forest, or the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and other rivers stack up against surrounding states. I won't spend time singing the praises the habitat Illinois provides for many migratory birds and the ever-loved monarch butterfly, or discuss the beauty of the native prairie ecosystem. You can learn more about those things at Environmental Almanac.

But I will talk about water. Illinois has a lot of water. And it is a major economic driver in the state. A negative one a lot of the time.

The Illinois Swamp

Much of Illinois is built on a swamp. Early settlers came in, recognized incredibly fertile soils, and used technology to move the water off the land and into rivers and streams to create some of the most productive farmland in the country.

Then we built settlements and cities along the waterways and more people came and called Illinois home, trying to move the water as needed.

A Manmade Problem

Even the best technology can't stop water from being water. We know this when we see the water pooled in the streets after a big storm or see houses inundated by floodwaters in the spring.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Spring Outlook for this year is predicting a lot of flooding in the Midwest so we will probably have ample opportunity to see water in action. 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reported more than $2 billion in documented damages related to flooding from 2007 to 2014.

With increasingly extreme weather and what seems to be a trend toward more rain, it will be interesting to see what the dollar figure is in the next iteration of this report.

There is more I can write – having lots of water has benefits, too – but I will stop there for now. If I have piqued your interest, here are some resources to check out:

  • Homeowners: Consider natural lawn care and gardening practices at Midwest Grows Green or Lawn to Lake. Or look for resources on putting in rain gardens or rain barrels to keep rainwater in your yard and out of the street.
  • Municipalities: Consider joining the Prairie Sustainability Network, a group of local government officials who compare notes on sustainability and resource management practices.