The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Prairie Rivers Network challenges agriculture, launches clean water campaign

Anh-khoi Pham
Prairie Rivers Network booth with Membership Development Associate Sarah Scott and Illinois Earth Society and Environmental Sustainability graduate Jizelle Torres on the main Quad during Green quad Day on Oct. 18.

On Thursday evening, residents across the Midwest gathered at The Orpheum to support the launch of the Prairie Rivers Network’s “Clean Water Forever” campaign and listen to former University of Iowa research engineer Chris Jones give a lecture on sustainable agriculture in the Midwest.

Jones, in promotion of his new book “The Swine Republic: Struggles with Truth about Agriculture and Water Quality,” covered topics ranging from factory farming to ethanol production. 

“We know that the pollution from agriculture is not regulated and, because we have so much of it in Iowa, that’s left our lakes and streams and aquifers in a condition that’s less than they should be,” Jones said. 

Jones is widely recognized for the controversy surrounding his blog on the University of Iowa domain where he spoke out about the political contributions to the state’s poor water quality, which allegedly was later ended due to concerns about funding being removed from the university as a result of the contents of the blog. 

“I was openly critical of the decision-making that is behind a lot of the pollution problems that we have,” Jones said. “The fact that people were reading my pieces I think is what upset the people in the legislature.” 

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    Throughout his presentation, Jones reframed the issue of water quality in the Midwest as a social justice issue. He explained that citizens living in the corn belt, a region in the Midwest that dominates in corn production, suffer from severe water quality problems. 

    Specifically, Jones described large-scale row crop agriculture as responsible for the water crisis, which allows pesticides and contaminants to make their way into local streams and rivers. 

    “Can we get the environmental outcomes that we want when we’re producing at this scale?” Jones said. “I would say to you that we cannot.” 

    At the end of his presentation, Jones assured attendees that these issues were not without solutions, explaining how local organization and agitation were the main drivers towards regional change. Advocacy could include going to community meetings, writing state and local legislators and organizing community activist groups.

    Jones’ talk was only one part of Thursday’s event that kicked off the “Clean Water Forever” campaign. The PRN campaign is intended to bring attention to issues surrounding water quantity, quality and access in Illinois, starting in southern Illinois and moving upward to Chicago. 

    “This campaign is trying to kind of connect the dots between a bunch of water quality concerns that we have as an organization,” said Maggie Bruns, executive director of PRN.

    In her introduction for Jones, Bruns suggested that unchecked pollution, stemming largely from industrial row crop agriculture and coal mining, was responsible for the water crisis in Illinois. 

    “We’re the fourth largest producing coal state in the country,” Bruns explained. “There’s a lot of quality issues from that.” 

    A myriad of guests attended the event. From University students to retired Farm Bureau members, the issues covered in the night’s launch brought in a variety of perspectives. 

    “From my perspective, I mean, I’ve done groundwater quality work for quite a long time,” said Chris Stohr, Champaign County board member and engineering geologist. “So we all, even the experts, know a little bit about the issues. It’s kind of a way of adding to your own knowledge.”

    To learn more about the PRN’s “Clean Water Forever” campaign, visit the network’s website

    Chris Jones’ blogs remain on the University of Iowa website, though he continues to write on Substack under the name @riverraccoon.  


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