Author Archives: katrina4cleanwater

Sierra Club responds to Trump’s second attempt to cut Great Lakes funding

Yesterday, the Trump Administration released its 2019 budget proposal, which includes an approximate 90% cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a fund that EPA distributes to groups doing work on the ground to protect and restore the Great Lakes and its ecosystems.

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Senator Tammy Duckworth showing her support for the Great Lakes and EPA funding in September 2017

We saw a similar attempt last year, when Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a complete elimination of the GLRI, and we fought back with the force of millions of Americans who know the value of a healthy Great Lakes. We showed that protecting the Great Lakes is a bipartisan issue, because we all need clean water to drink and economic drivers to thrive in our Midwest communities. We were happy to see Congress pass a 2018 budget that included full funding of the GLRI.

Our elected officials stood with us in rejecting Trump’s previous proposal to slash Great Lakes funding, and we expect they will do so again in response to this repeated senseless attempt. It is time to invest in our Great Lakes and our communities, and we will not stand for the Trump Administration trying to turn their backs on us by cutting jobs and threatening the progress we have made in restoring the health and prosperity of our region.

The proposal also calls for slashing EPA’s 2019 budget by 34% from 2017 to $5.4 billion — an even deeper cut than Trump sought last year. The EPA’s efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore degraded ecosystems and respond to environmental threats cannot be done without sufficient funding and staff. At a time when crumbling infrastructure threatens the delivery of safe, clean water and climate change is bringing storm events at unprecedented levels, it is completely irresponsible to abandon successful efforts to protect our resources and make our communities more resilient.

We’ve seen what happens when the agencies charged with protecting our environment aren’t given the funding and resources needed to do their job effectively. Last year we saw an oil spill in the Chicago River, multiple chromium spills into Lake Michigan by U.S. Steel (a facility with numerous permit violations) and an overall drop in penalties sought against polluters in Illinois under Rauner’s EPA. Our Great Lakes and other waterways, as well as the air and land across our region, need protection against dangerous pollution that threatens our health and the future of our resources.

We again call on members of Congress and all of us who depend on the Great Lakes to stand up and do what our region has always done to show that protecting this precious resource and supporting a strong EPA should be a top priority for the entire nation, starting with the federal budget.

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge to tell your legislators to stand up for the Great Lakes.


All Hands on Deck event in Chicago, July 2017


Debunking Myths and Taking Action to Stop Asian Carp


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Invasive Asian carp are an urgent threat to the health of the Great Lakes, and the people and economies that depend on the lakes and their resources. The Sierra Club and its partners have long advocated for a comprehensive solution to the risk of these fish invading the Great Lakes, along with the other aquatic invasive species that threaten both the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked by Congress with finding a solution to invasives moving into both basins, their current efforts are heavily focused on Asian carp and their upstream movement. The Chicago Area Waterways system provides an artificial connection between the two basins, created over 100 years ago when the Chicago River was reversed to send wastewater downstream to the Illinois and then Mississippi River.  We must address the consequences of this artificial connection to protect our vital freshwater resources.


Map showing location of locks, Asian carp populations and the current electric barriers within the Illinois river system. 

Earlier this year, the Army Corps completed a draft report detailing their Tentatively Selected Plan to install controls at the Brandon Road Lock in Joliet, Illinois in an effort to prevent Asian carp from moving upstream towards Lake Michigan. The new deadline for submitting comments on this report is December 8, and a fourth public meeting to present the report and gather input will be held on December 5 in New Orleans.

Let’s take a look at what’s included in the Tentatively Selected Plan.

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None of these proposed control methods will stop traffic from moving through the lock. Electric barriers are used elsewhere in the river system, and the other technologies can be deployed without preventing current operations. While this combination of control methods cannot provide 100% confidence that Asian carp will not move through the lock, they will reduce the risk of transfer and add an additional stopgap between the current population and Lake Michigan.

In a recent news article, the president of Illinois Marine Towing Inc. claimed: “The new plan for structural barriers would slow shipping from 11,000 barge passages per year at Brandon down to 7,000.” According to the Army Corps, there is no factual basis for this claim in their analysis, and these figures don’t align with actual lockages at Brandon Road. Obviously, the impacts to transportation would be highest during construction of the project, when the shippers are expected to temporarily use another method of transportation during construction (estimated conservatively at 40 days) and then return to their normal operations after construction is complete. But outside this period, the reduction in lockages is not predicted at this mythical scale.

Another “alternative fact” we’ve seen recently came from the State of Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti who was interviewed for an article in Ottawa’s The Times: “Last summer a live Asian carp was found in the Calumet River, less than 10 miles from Lake Michigan. But Sanguinetti said an autopsy and other testing shows it did not arrive via the Illinois River.” According to Dr. Greg Whitledge at Southern Illinois University’s Department of Zoology, who performed the autopsy on the fish caught over the summer, it is incorrect to conclude that the fish definitely did not arrive at its collection location via the Illinois River.  The chemistry of the fish’s earstones (otoliths) are consistent with prior residency in the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers.  Whether it arrived in the Calumet River on its own or was moved there (i.e., transported around the barriers and released) cannot be determined.

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A live Silver carp was found in June 2017 beyond the current electric barriers in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), just nine miles from Lake Michigan. 

So, it is possible that this Asian carp did arrive via the Illinois River. And it is possible that other Asian carp will move through the Illinois River system towards Lake Michigan without additional protections to stop their movement. While we greatly appreciate the work that staff of state agencies like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are doing to remove large amounts of Asian carp from the river system, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to fish these voracious invasive species to extinction.  

It’s far past time to get serious about a permanent solution to the problem of Asian carp and all aquatic invasive species threatening our waterways. The State of Illinois should be working proactively with other states and agencies to identify and implement such a solution, rather than dragging their heels and placing declining waterway use by barges over the future of our most important natural resource. Both can be protected if we work together effectively.  

In the face of these myths and inaccuracies, we must bring science back into the conversation and work together cooperatively to ensure that an effective, holistic solution is implemented to protect the Great Lakes, a national treasure, economic driver and drinking water source for over 40 million people.

Please submit your comments before Dec. 8th to tell the Army Corps to move forward expeditiously with their plan to install controls against invasive Asian carp. For help submitting a comment, use our Action Alert.  


A night of adventure will help Chicago youth connect with the outdoors

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Get your tickets for the Adventure Film Festival!

This Sunday, Chicagoans will gather at the Music Box Theatre for an evening full of some of the year’s best independent outdoor films, delicious food and drinks and the warm feeling of supporting a good cause. At the end of the night, raffle winners will go home with new outdoor gear, gift certificates from great local businesses and memberships to Chicago favorites like Divvy, Corepower Yoga, the Chicago Botanic Gardens and First Ascent rock climbing gym.

See Award-Winning Films

Theatre.jpgFrom serious outdoor exploration to environmental heroism, the Adventure Film Festival showcases gripping tales from the edge of the believable. Witness gritty, profound, shocking, visceral, and inspiring films that manifest the spirit of adventure. These journeys and stories are where dreams are born and legends are made.

The Adventure Film Festival will feature 2017 award winners on a World Tour traveling from Boulder to Chicago, New York, Santiago, and several major cities in between.

The series of films being featured in Chicago include stories about at risk teens facing their fears to climb mountains in Brazil, incredible yet controversial Grey Wolf recovery efforts in Colorado, big-hearted strangers carrying the boots of a lost adventurer along the Appalachian Trail, and more!

VIP Experience at a Great Value 

Gift BagsArrive early and pay only $25 more for the full VIP experience. A private reception in the theatre’s lounge from 4pm to 5pm will include complimentary food and drinks, gift bags full of great gifts from our sponsors and a chance to mingle with other film enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. VIP ticket holders will also get priority seating in the theatre for the best view of the big screen.

Inspire a Love of the Outdoors for Chicago Youth

All proceeds go to the Sierra Club’s Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO). Chicago ICO is a volunteer-run community outreach program that provides opportunities for Chicago youth to explore and protect the natural world, while developing their leadership skills and honing a love of the outdoors. Proceeds from the film festival will help us expand our reach to engage more youth and increase the number and ambition of outings.


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A Pattern of Success

In 2015, our first Adventure Film Festival sold out at the Logan Theatre. In 2016, we moved to the Music Box Theatre for a larger venue and had another successful event. This year, we’re excited to bring more people together around a love of the outdoors, adventure, great films and a passion for getting more kids outdoors to connect with nature.

Special thanks to our local sponsors, Arc’Teryx and Moosejaw, for supporting Chicago ICO, and to Patagonia and Intrepid Travel for sponsoring the Adventure Film Festival!

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Join us!

Don’t wait – get your tickets now to secure your seat one of Chicago’s best events for outdoors enthusiasts, film fanatics and activists alike. Click here to purchase tickets and click here to share with your friends on Facebook.  See you there!

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Protecting the Great Lakes, One Pledge at a Time

Earlier this year, President Trump proposed a budget that would completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and drastically cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the entity responsible for protecting human health and the environment. We were appalled by this abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our health, our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.

Halting the incredible work of the men and women who are cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes would be a huge mistake today and have drastic implications for the future. Folks in Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Detroit and many more communities on the Great Lakes know the toll of dirty industry. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up and protect the land and water in the Great Lakes region keeps communities safe and restores property values. Work by the EPA to minimize or mitigate the impacts of pollution on our health and environment is critical.

We knew we needed to respond to this shocking proposal and show decision makers in D.C. that restoring the Great Lakes and protecting our health and environment are broadly supported, bipartisan priorities for people across our region. In March, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous proposed cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.

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We knew we couldn’t be the only voices calling for the protection of resources that so many people depend on, and the incredibly rare source of freshwater we are fortunate to have in our region. Over the summer, our volunteers collected Great Lakes Protection Pledges online and at events throughout Illinois. By the end of the summer, over 15,000 people had signed the pledge, calling on their Members of Congress to:

  • Support full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • Oppose policy rollbacks that threaten to increase pollution of our Great Lakes; and
  • Support increased investment in clean water infrastructure, to supply clean drinking water for all.

In September, we visited district offices in Illinois to ask our Representatives to be the voice of thousands of Great Lakes supporters and ensure that the new budget includes full funding for the Great Lakes, the EPA and needed water infrastructure projects. We visited ten offices, delivering our message and a list of all the people from each Congressional district that signed the Great Lakes Protection Pledge. Some of our champions even signed the pledge themselves, committing to vote for clean water and healthy Great Lakes (shout out to Representatives Foster, Lipinski, Schakowsky and Quigley!).

During the last week of September, a small team from Illinois traveled to DC to participate in the first “Defend Our Progress” Sierra Club Lobby Week with staff, volunteers and partners from across the country. One the final day of our trip, we delivered our boxes of pledge cards to Senators Durbin and Duckworth, asking them to continue to advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes supporters they represent.

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As the budget process plays out in DC, we are glad to see full funding of the GLRI in the package of spending bills passed by the House. But the 10% cut to the EPA budget and the dangerous riders and cuts to other critical agencies and programs are unacceptable. We now look to the Senate to restore common sense by prioritizing our health and the protection of resources that our economy and communities depend on.

We are so grateful for all of the people who contributed to this effort. Thank you to every person who signed a pledge, collected pledges at a farmer’s market, festival or other event, participated in a meeting with your Member of Congress, amplified our message on social media or other outlets, and helped with databasing and other behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. We appreciate you, and the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, business or recreation will benefit from your efforts. Onward! 



Service and Serenity in the Colorado Rockies

Last month, I spent a week in the Colorado wilderness with three high school students from Chicago and a small group of Sierra Club members from California, Oregon and France (yes, France!). The students participate in the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program, which strives to empower youth from communities with limited access to connect and reconnect to the outdoors – for the benefit of both.

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The outdoors and the creatures who live there certainly benefitted from the hard work and dedication of these young people as we took down old barbed wire fence that harms wildlife, built new wildlife-friendly fencing and removed invasive weeds. And when we finally reached the peak of a 12-mile hike with a view of Elk Falls (on our “rest day”), the students felt the benefit of connecting with the natural world at 10,000 feet. Their willingness to challenge themselves and live outside their comfort zone was inspiring, which is where the benefit comes in for me. I’m filled with hope and motivation when I see the future in these young people, who could lead the next generation of environmental advocates and justice warriors.

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We spent the week camping near and working on the historic AG Ranch in Shawnee, Colorado, where the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String – 11 mules, 2 saddle horses, and lead packer, Glenn Ryan – have their home. One of only two full regional specialty pack strings, they provide low-impact heavy hauling into wilderness and limited-access areas, train others in packing, and educate the public. Their important presence serves to preserve wilderness values in our public lands by providing heavy hauling without the need for mechanization. We had the opportunity to support the protection and maintenance of public lands by helping to improve the facilities that are home to this exceptional operation of the U.S. Forest Service.

The service work we did was difficult and tiring, but the interactions we had with Glenn and his interns, who showed us how to do the work and explained why it’s important, made us feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of each long day. The time we got to spend with the horses and mules on the ranch was an added bonus.

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While we typically take Chicago ICO participants on day trips and overnight car camping trips in the Chicago region, the opportunity to take a few young people on a National Service Trip once a year provides a unique experience and a chance to deepen connections. I see huge value in all of us feeling connected to the environment in our communities, but there’s really nothing like spending some time in the mountains, sleeping in a tent and gazing at the stars. To get away from the city and be surrounded by wilderness was a gentle push from Mother Nature for us to calm our minds, open our eyes and breathe.


I hope the students felt the calm and serenity that I found so refreshing, and enjoyed the break in normal life and routine. The other participants and leaders on the trip expressed that having the young people there brought a new energy (quite literally—the students were often the first ones up at the crack of dawn!) that added something special to the experience.

As we returned to Chicago, I felt refreshed and inspired to continue our work growing the ICO program, connecting people with the outdoors and empowering young people to be leaders in their communities and in the environmental and social justice movements. We need them, and the hopelessness that sometimes washes over us as we face the world’s current challenges seems to fade away as we see their energy and passion to do good and fight for the future.


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To learn more about the Chicago ICO program, visit our webpage here

To find out more about Sierra Club service outings, visit our outings site.  


Bill Introduced Today to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release a study the Army Corps of Engineers has done on Asian Carp control methods at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. In response, Sierra Club and our partners released the following statement.


Alliance for the Great Lakes  ·  National Wildlife Federation  ·  Natural Resources Defense Council  ·  Ohio Environmental Council  ·  Prairie Rivers Network  ·  Save The River  ·  Sierra Club   ·  Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council


Media Statement
Bill Seeks to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion
Groups Applaud Efforts by Members of Congress to Make Latest Research Available to the Public

Chicago, IL (June 21, 2017) – A bipartisan bill introduced today in Congress would push the Trump Administration to stop delaying a key effort to stop the Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes. Conservation groups from around the Great Lakes region expressed support for the bill. The groups stressed that the current Asian carp control measures, from electric barriers to harvesting, are not enough to keep the harmful fish out of the Great Lakes.

Two years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with studying additional protection measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, IL. The facility is a logical choke point location to install control measures to stop the fish from moving closer to the lake. The study was paid for at taxpayer expense and is ready for public review. The draft report was supposed to be released for public review and input on February 28, 2017. But, instead of releasing it to the public, the White House blocked the report’s release, leaving it hidden away on a Washington, D.C. shelf gathering dust. And with it, efforts to install critical prevention measures to halt Asian carp have all but come to a halt, putting the Great Lakes at risk.

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release the Brandon Road Study. The Stop Asian Carp Now bill was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI).  We applaud Members of Congress for pushing to make this report public and fighting to protect the Great Lakes from the serious threat posed by Asian carp. Conservation groups support the bill noting that, “the Administration has had more than three months to review the report. It is past time to give Great Lakes residents a chance to do the same.”

The seven cosponsors in the Senate so far are Senators Durbin (D-IL), Peters (D-MI), Baldwin (D-WI), Brown (D-OH), Franken (D-MN), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Duckworth (D-IL).

The 31 cosponsors in the House so far are Reps. Huizenga (MI-02), Joyce (OH-14), Slaughter (NY-25), Nolan (MN-08), Trott (MI-11), Bergman (MI-01), Moolenaar (MI-04), Walberg (MI-07), Kildee (MI-05), Upton (MI-06), Schneider (IL-10), Mike Bishop (MI-08), Dingell (MI-12), Lawrence (MI-14), Walz (MN-01), Quigley (IL-05), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Conyers (MI-13), Moore (WI-04), Gallagher (WI-08), Chris Collins (NY-27), Schakowsky (IL-09), Mitchell (MI-10), Duffy (WI-07), Pocan (WI-02), Levin (MI-09), Fudge (OH-11), Stefanik (NY-21), Latta (OH-05), Amash (MI-03) and Brian Higgins (NY-26).


Note to Media: Two additional resources that may be helpful in relation to this statement include:

Media Contacts:

Alliance for the Great Lakes: Jennifer Caddick, (312) 445-9760,
National Wildlife Federation: Marc Smith, (734) 887-7116,
Natural Resources Defense Council: Ivan Moreno, 312-651-7932,
Ohio Environmental Council: David Miller, (419) 944-1986,
Prairie Rivers Network: Robert Hirschfeld, (217) 344-2371 x205,
Save The River: Lee Willbanks, (315) 686-2010,
Sierra Club: Cindy Skrukrud, (312) 251-1680 x110,
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council: Jennifer McKay, (231) 347-1181,


Chicago Water Team Hosts Wastewater Tour with Local High School Students

This shows the size of some of the tunnels that carry wastewater to the treatment facilities! 

This afternoon, the Sierra Club’s Chicago Water Team and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) hosted an educational event to share the importance of sustainably managing wastewater with local high school students in celebration of World Water Day. World Water Day is a global day of awareness organized by the United Nations and celebrated throughout the world during the week of March 22 to bring public attention to world water issues and take action to address them. (Read our previous blog post about World Water Day.)


Stage 1 of the McCook Reservoir

A group of 21 students and two teachers from Pritzker College Prep, along with six volunteers from the Chicago Water Team and MWRD Commissioner Josina Morita, traveled to the Mainstream Pumping Station in Hodgkins, southwest of Chicago, for the tour. This facility pumps wastewater collected by the deep tunnel system to send to the Stickney Wastewater Reclamation Plant for treatment. The group also stopped by the McCook Reservoir to see this storage feature that, when completed in 2029, will be able to hold 10 billion gallons and serve an area of 254.7 square miles, and is expected to provide more than $114 million per year in flood damage reduction benefits to 3,100,000 people in 37 communities.


Students observe a model of the sewer system

The students learned about the importance of treating stormwater and sewage from the city’s combined sewer system before it enters the river in order to protect water quality in Chicago and downstream communities. Despite the current treatment system, untreated sewage and stormwater still enters the waterways when heavy rainfall overwhelms the combined sewer system and causes it to overflow at various outfall points along the river. The McCook and Thornton Reservoirs are intended to reduce the occurrence of these combined sewer overflows and reduce flooding in the areas they serve. While treated wastewater is currently sent downstream and away from the city, MWRD continues to look for ways to turn wastewater into a resource, as evidenced by their new phosphorus recovery system at the Stickney Wastewater Reclamation Plant.

During the tour, we talked about how we can change our behaviors to reduce our waste of water. Taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet when it’s not being used and refraining from doing laundry or washing dishes during rainstorms were some of the action steps shared with the group. Washing one load of laundry takes about 18 gallons of water, which can make a big difference in a city of almost 3 million people. If we reduce our water use, MWRD will be better able to treat the water and prevent sewer overflows into the river.

Here in Chicago, we’re lucky to have one of the greatest freshwater resources- Lake Michigan- which provides drinking water, recreation anClean Water Means Jobs.pngd tourism for the city. Sustainably managing this resource, reducing the waste of water and investing in new ways to protect human health and the environment by protecting our water quality will be increasingly important as the population grows and demand increases. Investments in clean water will bring good, green jobs and economic benefits that will ripple throughout the economy and support our communities and working families. To learn more about the benefits of investing in clean water, read our 2015 report, A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois.

As the youngest Commissioner on the MWRD Board, Josina told the students that she believes in the power and importance of having young people involved in this work. She encouraged the students to take advantage of internship opportunities with MWRD, which is an agency with every field: engineering, law, accounting, public relations, construction, and more. Talk about some clean water jobs!

We appreciate MWRD’s work to clean our water, and thank them for taking the time to show us how they do it. We also appreciate the enthusiasm of the students for protecting our water resources. With their minds, the future of water is bright- and clean!


This trip was organized and funded in part by Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors, an outreach program of the Sierra Club with a mission of getting young people outdoors to explore, enjoy, and protect the environment. If you’d like to learn more about the program or apply to become a volunteer, please visit our website.

Please visit the Chicago Water Team’s website to learn more about the team’s efforts to improve the waterways of the Chicago area or to join the team. And join us on April 22 for a clean-up at Montrose Beach in celebration of Earth Day! Learn more and register here