One of Illinois’ top water quality problems is nutrient pollution caused by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waters. Nutrients are present in discharges from sewage treatment plants, are found in fertilizers, and come from industry sources, notably Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). When water containing nitrogen and phosphorus flows underground or into nearby rivers, lakes, and streams, the impacts are slow to manifest but often devastating.

Algae overgrowth brought on by nutrient pollution can render drinking water sources unusable because of cyanobacteria (commonly referred to as blue-green algae); overrun lakes and ponds with a foul-smelling green gunk; make people and/or animals swimming in the water sick; scuttle recreational opportunities and hobble associated businesses; and diminish property values. The effects of algae overgrowth are felt throughout Illinois. Results from 13 Illinois water bodies sampled in 2012 indicate that cyanobacteria and associated cyanotoxins are a concern for Illinois residents — 10 of the 13 water bodies indicated a high probability of acute health effects during recreational exposure from cyanobacteria, and one had a very high probability. Phosphorus is a major cause of impairment in Illinois streams as are low dissolved oxygen levels which are often caused by algae overgrowth fed by excess nutrients. Phosphorus and aquatic algae are also among the major causes of impairment in Illinois lakes.

Nutrient pollution is not only harming Illinoisans. The northern Gulf of Mexico hosts one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world but unprecedented levels of nitrogen and phosphorus have overloaded the system, resulting in the largest “dead zone” of hypoxic (low oxygen) water in the world. More troubling is that Illinois is a significant contributor of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution causing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Current Laws, Rules, and Programs
The Clean Water Act:
Clean Water Action Plan:
The Clean Water Funding Fairness Act:
Regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations:
The Livestock Management Facilities Act:
Regulation of Phosphorus in Detergents Act:
Lawn Care Products Application and Notice Act:
Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy:
Nutrient Research & Education Council (NREC):
Nutrient Water Quality Standards:
Buffer Rule for livestock:
Our Vision for Controlling Nutrient Pollution
Nutrient pollution should be taken seriously by the state and measures should be enacted that drastically reduce the amount of nutrient pollution, restoring health to state waterways. Illinois should achieve its nutrient loss reduction strategy goal to reduce its annual loading to the Mississippi River of nitrate‐nitrogen and total phosphorus each by 45% by 2040.
Illinois should adopt numeric water quality standards for phosphorus and nitrogen.
Illinois should better control nutrient discharges from wastewater treatment plants.
The management of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture should occur at landscape scale. Illinois needs new regulations to establish 21st century stewardship standards.
Illinois should enact a buffer rule to protect sensitive waterways from nutrient pollution.
The Illinois budget should continue to support and should fully fund the U of I extension, soil and water conservation districts, and other resources to help and encourage farmers to reduce nutrient pollution.
The Illinois permitting and permit renewals process should be updated.
The regulation of CAFOs under the Clean Water Act.
  • The Livestock Management Facilities Act should be revised to protect waterways and to provide a more meaningful role for the public in the permitting process.
  • Opportunities for phosphorous-containing fertilizers to enter waterways from urban non-point sources should be limited through bans or other efforts and construction and permit standards must emphasize nutrient reduction.
Take Action and More Resources

Partners for Parks and Wildlife

Partners for Parks and Wildlife (PPW) is a grassroots coalition that is dedicated to secure and increase funding for open space and park acquisition, natural area preservation, wildlife habitat protection and recreational opportunities in Illinois.

Learn More About Climate Change

The U.S. EPA’s website on climate change was once a great resource for basic scientific information on the topic and we look forward to the day that it is again. Until then, the City of Chicago is making sure its citizens have access to research and information.


One of the simplest ways to donate to the IEC is by contributing through EarthShare in your workplace charity campaign .