Skip to Main Content

The Pollution of Our Waterways in Central Illinois

Mahomet, Illinois

Story Narrative:

Screenshot from The Pollution of Our Waterways in Central Illinois showing a small creek and surrounding vegetation

Inspired by the MoMS exhibition Water/Ways, three teens collaborating with staff at the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet, Illinois created a poignant video called “The Pollution of Our Waterways in Central Illinois.” They already possessed some technical experience podcasting but the Stories from Main Street project allowed them to expand their skills, learning about lighting, recording outside, and perhaps the trickiest lesson, how to research and conduct successful interviews with adults who have different backgrounds and expertise. Museum of the Grand Prairie is located in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in a beautiful natural setting where the value of conservation can be seen every day. As the SfMS project leader points out, “This was a timely exhibit so [the students’] project was about advocacy and the importance of your local waterways.” The collaboration between the kids and the Museum was encouraged by a local teacher who hopes to continue similar projects in the future. The new equipment that the Museum purchased will help to bring more young people to work with them and improve oral history collection on a variety of topics important to people in the Mahomet area.

Jacob Minin (00:06): Water is an invaluable resource. We drink it, we use it to grow our crops, we play in it. We sometimes don't realize exactly how essential this resource is.

Suzanne Smith (00:26): I do think people take their water for granted, not necessarily on a global level, but I think in our country, we expect to turn the faucet in our bathroom or in our kitchen on and clean water will always come out of the tap.

Jacob Minin (00:41): However, we shouldn't take clean water for granted because pollution of our waterways causes problems for us far beyond the unpleasant appearance. Problems like contaminated drinking water and inability to grow crops rank among some of the worst. Unfortunately, damage has already taken place within our community. [inaudible 00:01:01] an ammonia spill by the University of Illinois into the Salt Fork River.

Jessica Riney (01:07): Back in 2002, there was a release from a U of I, they had a contractor that was cleaning their boilers and there was a release of ammonia into the stream system. And it ultimately got released into the [inaudible 00:01:21] Branch in Salt Fork.

Jacob Minin (01:23): In the aftermath of the ammonia spill, water restoration groups in our community are working hard to make this stream healthy again. However, there is potential for more harm to our waterways. Recently, a coal company has been trying to get permission to break ground near the bank of the Salt Fork River, which flows through Vermilion and Champion counties. This would cause multiple problems for residents.

Suzanne Smith (01:46): In the Salt Fork River, about four or five miles downstream is the town of Oakwood, which gets their drinking water supply from the Salt Fork River. And then a little bit downstream from there is the Camp Drake Boy Scout Camp in every summer. There's about 2000 Boy Scouts that tube in the Salt Fork River. And so we believe that it's important that we're very careful with the water that flows through the Salt Fork and particularly concerned about the water that would flow out of this coal mine.

Jacob Minin (02:16): Slurry impoundments are walls designed to keep harmful coal sludge from entering the water supply. However, they're not always effective.

Suzanne Smith (02:24): Our concern is that over time, these slurry impoundments will not maintain their integrity, that there will be cracks and that there will be leaching from that area. And that has a potential, again, to contaminate groundwater.

Jacob Minin (02:38): This means coal sludge could contaminate both the drinking water for the residents of Oakwood and the recreation waters near Camp Drake. Additionally, farmers that live near local rivers and streams rely on clean water to maintain the excellent quality of the soil. Thus, drainage from local coal mining could damage the crops we eat.

Jessica Riney (02:57): We're working with a variety of groups. We're working with biologists, hydrologists with University of Illinois, some scientists with USGS, geological survey.

Jacob Minin (03:10): Those experts aren't the only ones you can keep the waterways clean. We can also do our part as a community.

Jessica Riney (03:16): I think also the big picture stuff, how can we all think about ways to live in our environment and landscape with decreasing our footprint in the stream? So whether that's not throwing out something from your window, that McDonald's bag, for example, that's going to end up just trash in the stream. It goes from little things like that to the big things.

Jacob Minin (03:46): It is becoming increasingly clear that if we want clean water in the future, we have to take action to keep our waterways clean. Cutting down on littering, industrial pollution, and water usage will help ensure safe water for future generations.

Asset ID: 8580
Themes: Water, waterways, pollution, environment, activism
Date recorded: 2016
Length of recording: 4:36 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet, Illinois
More information

Media Files:

  • Youth in Mahomet, Illinois developed this project related to Water/Ways
  • Get video captions.