State of the Beach/State Reports/IL/Water Quality

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion

Illinois Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access76
Water Quality65
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-3
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures7 3
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Water Quality Monitoring Program

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Illinois was eligible for a $231,000 grant in fiscal year 2016. BEACH Act grants fully fund the Illinois Great Lakes beach monitoring program.

Portions of the following discussion are taken from NRDC's report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked Illinois 15th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 10% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

Illinois has public swimming beaches along approximately 60 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The Illinois Department of Public Health administers the state's coastal beach monitoring program. Beachgoers can find advisory information on the Chicago Park District website.

Water Quality Challenges and Improvements

Increased, Faster Water Quality Testing in Chicago

For summer 2017, swimmers at all Chicago beaches will be able to find out more quickly if the lake water is safe for swimming. The Chicago Park District, which oversees the city's beaches, plans to expand real-time water testing for bacteria to all city beaches, thanks to a $500,000 contract with the University of Illinois at Chicago that was approved by the Park District board. Previously, the district monitored levels of E. coli bacteria in the water near most beaches using a test that took 24 to 48 hours to produce results. For the 2017 summer, the Park District will send water samples from all 27 city beaches — up from nine in 2016 — to a UIC lab for a real-time test for enterococcus. The newer method reveals results in two to three hours. Faster results mean the public can be notified more quickly. The Park District alerts people if the water quality or weather conditions are dangerous — and whether swimming is permitted — on its beach website, through a beach hotline, 312-742-3224, and via color-coded flags at beaches. Find the full story in this news article.

Green Infrastructure Planned for Rainbow Beach

Rainbow Beach has historically suffered poor water quality. During the 2012 monitoring season, its exceedance rate of 28% was the highest in Illinois. The Chicago Park District received a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant in 2012 from the U.S. EPA to install a green stormwater filtration system to capture and treat runoff at Rainbow Beach, which should reduce stormwater volume and improve water quality in the area. The project is currently in the design phase and will be installed after the 2013 beach season. During the 2013 monitoring season, its exceedance rate was 21%, which represents a considerable decrease, considering that is based on a lower BAV standard.

Improving Beachwater Quality in Chicago

In 2012, the Chicago Park District began using predictive models at 14 beaches: Juneway, Rogers, Howard, Jarvis/Fargo, Hartigan, Leone/Loyola, Foster, Montrose, Oak Street, Ohio Street, 12th Street, 31st Street, 63rd Street, and Calumet. Parameters include wave height, turbidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and solar radiation. In 2012 and 2013 advisories were issued when the predicted bacteria level for E. coli was above 235 cfu/100 ml.

Two beaches in Chicago, 63rd Street Beach (Jackson Park) and 57th Street Beach, routinely exceeded water quality standards in the past. A large number of seagulls are known to contribute to the fecal contamination at these beaches. Using border collies during the beach season to harass gulls every day from dawn to dusk has proved to be an effective means of improving water quality at these beaches.

Closings and Advisories

Standards and Procedures

Depending on the managing authority for coastal beaches, both advisories and swim bans are issued. The water quality standard in Illinois is an E. coli single-sample maximum of 235 cfu/100 ml. No geometric mean standard is applied when making swim ban and advisory decisions. Beachgoers can find advisory information on the Chicago Park District website.

In most jurisdictions, either a swim ban or an advisory is issued if one sample exceeds the single-sample standard.5 The only exceptions are beaches managed by the Wilmette Health Department (the Gillson Park beaches and Langdon Beach), the Winnetka Park District (Tower, Maple, and Elder beaches), and Lake County (North Point Marina Beach and Illinois Beach State Park). Two samples are taken daily at these beaches, and if one sample exceeds the standard, a resample is taken before a swim ban is issued. If both samples exceed the standard, a swim ban is issued without resampling. In 2011, the Chicago Park District posted an advisory at its beaches when sample results were between 235 cfu/100 ml and 1,000 cfu/100 ml, and a ban when sample results exceeded 1,000 cfu/100 ml. In 2012, the Chicago Park District began posting advisories when sample results exceed 235 cfu/100 ml and bans when there is a sewage spill.

Beach managers may preemptively issue swim bans or advisories because of rain or other factors.

The Lake County Health Department uses a predictive model called SwimCast to make swim ban and advisory decisions at Waukegan South Beach, Forest Park Beach in Lake Forest, and Rosewood Beach in Highland Park. At a minimum, predictions are generally made at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and whenever hydrometeorological conditions change. For each beach where the SwimCast system exists, similar but slightly different predictive models are used. These models predict beachwater conditions on a real-time basis, in contrast to standard culture methods for quantifying bacteria. When culture methods are used as the basis for issuing swim bans and advisories, health warnings are not issued until at least 24 hours after samples are taken due to the time required to process and read the samples. In a sense, using culture methods to issue swim bans and advisories is akin to using yesterday’s bacteria density to predict today’s. Studies have shown that SwimCast provides a more accurate assessment of current beachwater quality than does the prior day’s bacterial density.

SwimCast models produce a 99% confidence interval—that is, a lower and upper bound of bacterial concentrations between which the actual bacteria concentration is expected, with 99% confidence, to lie. At all beaches where the SwimCast model is used, the protocol for determining swim bans and risk advisories is the same:

  1. A swim ban occurs when the lower bound of the 99% confidence interval prediction is above 235 cfu/100 ml. Under a ban, the beach is posted with a red flag. This is the highest-risk condition.
  2. When the average prediction and upper bound of the 99% confidence interval prediction are above 235 cfu/100 ml but the lower bound is below 235 cfu/100 ml, this is considered to be a moderate- to high-risk condition and is posted as an advisory at the beach.
  3. When the upper bound of the 99% confidence interval prediction is above 235 cfu/100 ml but the average prediction and the lower bound of the 99% confidence interval prediction are below 235 cfu/100 ml, this is considered to be a moderate-risk condition and is posted as an advisory at the beach.
  4. When the upper bound of the 99% confidence interval prediction is below 235 cfu/100 ml, this is considered to be a low-risk condition and is posted with a green flag.

In the Chicago Park District, intensive data collection began in 2011 for model development at five additional beaches: Foster, Montrose, Oak Street, 63rd Street, and Calumet. The District used models at several of these beaches to make swim ban and advisory decisions in 2012 and 2013.

Chicago has a hotline to call for beach conditions: (312) 74BEACH

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC), in partnership with LimnoTech and the Great Lakes states, has developed a free smartphone application that provides convenient, public access to swim advisories and other environmental conditions information for more than 1,800 beaches in the Great Lakes region. Funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the myBeachCast application (app) retrieves locational and advisory data for Great Lakes and inland lake beaches in the eight Great Lakes states. The app also features real-time and forecasted weather and lake conditions (e.g., water temperature, wave heights, wind speed/direction) and nearshore marine forecasts, drawn from the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). myBeachCast allows users to discover local beaches based on the user’s location, view beaches and their status on a map, save favorite beaches, and get driving directions. To download myBeachCast, go to

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) Strategy identifies coastal health as a priority recognizing the significance of beaches to the economic well-being, health and quality of life of the region's citizens. The GLRC Clean Beaches Initiative was an effort to help encourage the implementation of best beach management practices, including the use of sanitary surveys and actions to remediate contamination sources, as outlined by the GLRC Strategy. The GLRC Clean Beaches Initiative workgroup was comprised of federal, state, local, and tribal partners.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), through its Great Lakes Beach Health Initiative, has been conducting research to advance the science of beach health in the Great Lakes for over a decade. The overall mission of this work is to provide science-based information and methods that will allow beach managers to more accurately make beach closure and advisory decisions, understand the sources and physical processes affecting beach contaminants, and understand how science-based information can be used to mitigate and restore beaches and protect the public. The work consists of four science elements—real-time assessments; pathogens and microbial source tracking; coastal processes; and data analysis, interpretation, and communication.

A multi-agency Advanced Monitoring Initiative project entitled Developing Water and Land Tools to Forecast Bacterial Exposure in Beach Settings was initiated in 2007 to develop, synthesize, compare, and promote tools that can provide early warnings about pathogen indicator levels. Led by researchers and tool developers from EPA, USGS, NOAA, state and local governments, and universities, this project integrates several approaches that link environmental observations to the forecasting of microbial exposure, including statistical, hydrodynamic/process-based, and non-point source pollution models.

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in Illinois.

Water Quality Contacts

Justin Dewitt
Illinois Department of Public Health
525 W. Jefferson Street
Springfield, IL 62761
TEL: (217) 782-5830
Beach Monitoring Website

Mike Adam
Lake County Health Department

Beach Closures

NRDC reported:

In 2013, Illinois reported 63 coastal beaches and beach segments, 49 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 10% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 190 E. coli bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml freshwater in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Montrose Beach in Cook County (31%), South Shore Beach in Cook County (31%), North Point Marina Beach in Lake County (23%), Winnetka Elder Park Beach in Cook County (22%), and Rainbow Beach in Cook County (21%).

In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's Report for Illinois' 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.

The Illinois Department of Public Health lists the 2007 Beach Closings (and also yearly back to 1999), most of which occurred at inland beaches rather than Lake Michigan Beaches. Reports do not seem to be available online for more recent years.

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

Chicago has the largest sewage treatment facilities in the world. The Stickney Plant has a capacity of 1.2 billion gallons per day.

Here's a good summary of the development and expansion of Chicago's sewer system from the mid-1800s to the present.

The website of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago contains additional information on sewage treatment facilities in the Chicago area and some history.

Chicago is tightening limits on industrial water pollution for the first time in more than a decade. New restrictions will reduce the maximum allowable discharges for half a dozen hazardous substances, including three which previously had no top limit at all. A recent survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested the East Chicago Sanitary District could -- and should -- lower previously acceptable caps on arsenic, cyanide, mercury, molybdenum, phenols and chlorine. Until the new restrictions were signed in April 2006 by Mayor George Pabey, the city had no limits on how much arsenic, molybdenum and chlorine could be discharged into its wastewater treatment system.

At the same time, state environmental regulators with Illinois EPA are proposing standards that for the first time would limit the amount of bacteria in the Chicago River and require more dissolved oxygen to support fish and other aquatic life. The proposed changes would require disinfection (most likely with ultraviolet light) of wastewater treatment plant sewage discharges. Currently, bacteria levels in wastewater from the the North Side Treatment Plant are approximately 400 times higher than the amount found in disinfected wastewater that Philadelphia pumps into the Delaware River.

Officials at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District question whether the benefits would be worth the costs. "We're not convinced there are enough people using the waterways to merit spending this money," said Richard Lanyon, the district's research director. Spread out over two decades, the project is estimated to cost between $2 and $5 per month per household. Pushing for the disinfection project are Friends of the Chicago River, whose Margaret Frisbie says "Why should we only have nice rivers and streams in places like northern Michigan?" Illinois EPA engineer Rob Sulski says that "The effect will be upgrading the river to something closer to Clean Water Act standards." More information on this subject can be found in this article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 19, 2010.

In May 2011 the Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had issued an order that stretches of the Chicago River must be clean enough for "recreation in and on the water," a legal term for recreational activities including swimming and canoeing. The order also applies to two connected waterways, the Cal-Sag Channel and Little Calumet River. The order will require the North Side Treatment Plant to disinfect their treated sewage before it is discharged into the Chicago River. Chicago is the only major U.S. city that skips that important germ-killing step. Until now, the river and its connected waterways have been exempt from the toughest provisions of the Clean Water Act because it was long assumed that people wouldn't want to come near the channels. In June 2011 the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District voted to disinfect the wastewater discharged into the river from the North Side and Calumet water reclamation plants.

An issue that all sewage treatment plants have to deal with is disposal or beneficial reuse of the sewage sludge (otherwise known as "biosolids") from the process. Chicago's Stickney Plant has contracted with a firm called MBM to convert the biosolids to dry fertilizer pellets. A September 20, 2007 article in the Chicago Tribune details a long history of problems with the company that was awarded the contract. The showcase plant is now nearly four years behind schedule. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago plans to levy more than $1 million in late charges against MBM. In 2004, top district officials tried unsuccessfully to end the deal because of construction delays and permit disputes.

During a press conference in Chicago June 26, 2006, U.S. Representatives Mark Kirk and Dan Lipinski unveiled the proposed Great Lakes Water Protection Act, which establishes a federal deadline to end sewage dumping into the Great Lakes. Kirk and Lipinski's legislation gives cities until 2026 to build the full infrastructure needed to prevent sewage dumping into the Great Lakes. After the deadline, those who violate the dumping regulations will be fined $100,000 for every day they are in violation. Currently, the law provides for fines of $25,000 a day for dumping of sewage over U.S. EPA prescribed limits. The legislation also would create a fund that would be used to help clean up water and beaches in areas where violations have occurred.

An article that appeared in the Rockford Register Star on June 25, 2011 stated:

"Overflows occur in 121 Illinois communities. They fouled 250 miles of rivers and streams from 2006 through 2008, according to the Illinois EPA. Chicago’s system also dumps untreated sewage into Lake Michigan during heavy storms. The federal government has ordered cities to develop plans for how they will limit overflows to no more than four per year or capture 85 percent of the volume when the systems do overflow. Most plans must be completed by the end of September, to be implemented over a specific time period, sometimes up to two decades."

A Great Lakes Sewage Report Card was published in November 2006 by Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now Ecojustice). The report states that over 24 billion gallons of sewage and wastewater discharge are dumped into the Great Lakes every year. Detroit, Michigan received the lowest grade in the survey, D, for its discharges into Lake Erie. The city receiving the highest grade was Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Protecting Public Health, Caring for Chicago’s Waters, An Agenda for Action by the group Alliance for the Great Lakes calls for Chicago to join other major U.S. cities and disinfect its wastewater - or risk continuing to threaten public health by releasing bacteria and other disease-carrying agents into the Chicago River.

Information on Illinois' stormwater program can be found at:

Illinois' Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program is being developed in conjunction with development and approval of the ICMP. This document describes the program development.

In February 2006, it was announced that the federal budget for FY 2006-2007 contained $45 million for the Deep Tunnel project (officially the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan or TARP). Specifically, the appropriated funds will go for the first 3.5 billion-gallon phase of a planned 10.5 billion-gallon reservoir in McCook, scheduled for completion by 2019. The overall project includes the reservoir in McCook, a $230 million reservoir in Thornton (scheduled for completion by 2014), a reservoir near O'Hare International Airport (already completed) and 109.4 miles of underground tunnels (completed in spring 2006). TARP began way back in 1972. It includes 204 miles of underground tunnels about 300 feet below ground from Wilmette to Hodgkins. The mainstream tunnel, a $975 million project, is 33 feet in diameter and holds about a billion gallons of water.

In March 2011 an article in the Chicago Tribune questioned the effectiveness of the Deep Tunnel project, stating:

"But nearly four decades after taxpayers started paying for one of the nation's most expensive public works projects, billions of gallons of bacteria-laden sewage and storm runoff still routinely pour into the Chicago River and suburban waterways during and after storms, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Lake Michigan, long considered the sewage outlet of last resort, has been hit harder during the past four years than it was in the previous two decades combined. Between 2007 and 2010, records show, the agency in charge of Deep Tunnel dumped nearly 19 billion gallons of storm water teeming with disease-causing and fish-killing waste into the Great Lake, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs. By contrast, 12 billion gallons poured out between 1985 and 2006."

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced in January 2014 that his administration was addressing critical infrastructure throughout the state by doubling the investment in clean water projects through the Illinois Clean Water Initiative (ICWI). Further, he earmarked $2 billion for projects such as replacing ancient water mains, upgrading sewers and building wastewater treatment plants statewide.

Illinois is somewhat unique regarding stormwater runoff in that while portions of the state drain to Lake Michigan, other parts of the state drain to the Mississippi River and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. As detailed in the wastewater system history referenced above, some of the drainage to the Mississippi River is not natural. In the 1890s, the Water Reclamation District reversed the flow of area rivers from Lake Michigan to end pollution of Cook County's main source of drinking water -- Lake Michigan. The District later built about 56 miles of canals to the Des Plaines, Chicago and Calumet Rivers to further protect Lake Michigan from pollution, but at the expense of those rivers, the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly, in September 2010 it was reported that Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley floated the idea of undoing what has been called Chicago's greatest engineering feat --- reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan --- to improve the ecology of the Great Lakes. More on this. A report Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) presents and evaluates a range of options and technologies to prevent the transfer of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through aquatic pathways. One of the options under consideration is to re-insert a physical separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi system at an estimated cost of $18 billion.

Chicago has initiated a project called Green Alleys which aims to stop polluted rainwater in the city's alleyways from ending up in adjacent Lake Michigan. Chicago's 13,000 alleys, stretching 1,900 miles, date back to the 1800s. They also make up about 3,500 acres of impermeable surface. Many of the alleys were built without connections to storm sewers. Rainwater puddles on the pavement and can run into buildings, sometimes flooding basements. So, the extreme alley makeover started with the pavement. The alleys are being resurfaced with concrete, asphalt or paving stones that are permeable -- that is, water runs through them like a sieve to the dirt beneath. Microbes that thrive on materials like fertilizer and oil are seeded into the pavement or migrate there naturally. They cleanse the water of pollutants from cars and lawns. The cleaner water makes its way into the groundwater, and then flows into Lake Michigan. That's a big deal, because the city takes about a billion gallons of water out of Lake Michigan every year. But only about 1 percent of that water finds its way back to the lake. Other features of the Green Alley program include the use of recycled materials in pavement and energy-efficient light fixtures that direct light downward to reduce light pollution. As of mid-2008, Chicago has greened 40 alleys, with 48 more scheduled to get the treatment by the end of 2008. More information.

A related project is Chicago's greenest street in America — in reality stretches of two streets on the city’s South Side that are the beneficiaries of an innovative experiment not only in “green” street building but, more importantly, sustainable place making. More information.

A study by the Environmental Working Group released in April 2006 found that a relatively small percentage of rural counties--many of them in Illinois--are contributing to most of the nutrient pollution that is creating a summertime "dead zone" in the Gulf. McLean, LaSalle and Iroquois Counties were specifically cited as problem areas by the study. Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, suggested that if a small percentage of the land in the most heavily polluting counties were restored into wetlands or buffer strips, much of the nitrogen pollution from fertilizer could be removed before it reached the Mississippi.

A series of articles in the Great Lakes Echo discuss stormwater and municipal wastewater issues throughout the Great Lakes that are impacting recreational water quality.

Perception of Causes

U.S. EPA and federal, state and local beach program partners developed standardized beach sanitary survey forms in 2007. These forms assist beach managers with a consistent approach to identify pollution sources, share information, and plan source remediation. The forms were successfully piloted by 61 Great Lakes beaches during the 2007 beach season, through EPA funding. The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) Clean Beaches Initiative was focused on broadening the use of these standard sanitary survey forms throughout the Great Lakes region. Beach managers, cities, tribes, and citizen volunteers were encouraged to use the standard sanitary survey forms and take this first critical step towards ensuring clean and safe beaches.

An article in the Great Lakes Echo in December 2012 discussed many of the water quality problems in the Great Lakes, including bacterial pollution, algal blooms and invasive species.

In accordance with Sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the Illinois EPA must report to the USEPA on the quality of Illinois surface water (e.g., lakes, streams, Lake Michigan, wetlands) and groundwater resources (Section 305b) and provide a list of those waters where their designated uses are deemed "impaired" (Section 303d). In addition, the Illinois EPA must assess the water quality of all publicly-owned lakes in accordance with section 314(a)(1). To aid in making these determinations, the Illinois EPA annually collects chemical, physical, biological, habitat, and toxicity data, depending on the type of water body. Read more.

Great Lakes Restoration

In June 2009 President Obama appointed Cameron Davis, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, the first-ever Great Lakes “czar.” Mr. Davis coordinated federal programs on the lakes, including efforts to clean up contaminated sediments, reduce existing pollution sources and work to stop the spread of invasive species. The position was part of a $5 billion, 10-year restoration plan Obama released during his 2008 presidential campaign. Davis' official title is "Senior Advisor to the Administrator" Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Congress approved legislation in late October 2009 that included $475 million to restore the Great Lakes by combating invasive species, cleaning up highly polluted sites and expanding wetlands. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) includes:

  • $146 million for cleaning up pollution in sediment in feeder rivers and harbors before it flows into the Lakes.
  • $105 million to protect and restore habitat and wildlife.
  • $97 million to stop "nonpoint" pollution, such as farm fertilizer and oil runoff, that closes beaches and leads to fish kills.
  • $65 million to evaluate how the Lakes and wildlife are responding to cleanup efforts.
  • $60 million for combating zebra mussels and other invasive species.

This initiative will use outcome-oriented performance goals and measures to target the most significant problems and track progress in addressing them. EPA and its Federal partners will coordinate State, tribal, local, and industry actions to protect, maintain, and restore the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes. The Initiative builds upon 5 years of work of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force (IATF) and stakeholders, guided by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. The IATF included 11 cabinet and agency organizations, including: EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Homeland Security, Army, and Health and Human Services.

The IATF developed a Plan for the $475 million budget, including over $250 million in grants and project agreements aimed at achieving the long term goals: safely eating the fish and swimming at our beaches, assuring safe drinking water, and providing a healthy ecosystem for fish and wildlife. A companion Agency Actions document describes proposed accomplishments for each Agency pursuant to the Initiative.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative website provides additional information on the progress of this initiative, including the award of grants for specific projects.

The FY2010-FY2014 Great Lakes Restoration Action Plan was released on February 21, 2010. This Plan provides information about how the GLRI will address specific high profile, basin-wide issues (for example, aquatic invasive species) as well as critical but more localized issues (for example, contaminated sediments). EPA and the IATF used this plan to guide the overall direction and focus of GLRI and laid out the goals, objectives, measures, and actions to help track federal efforts from fiscal year 2010 through 2014. Great Lakes Restoration Action Plan II for FY2015-2019 was released in September 2014 and builds upon the work of the first GLRI Action Plan. More information on the action plan can be found here.

The report State of the Great Lakes 2016 contains discussions on each of the Great Lakes and the current and planned restoration projects.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 145 environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums. Their member organizations represent millions of people who share a common goal of restoring and protecting North America’s greatest freshwater resource, the Great Lakes. The coalition reflects a growing public awareness of the urgent need to restore the health of the Great Lakes, which are essential to the economic and cultural identity of our region. The coalition’s mission is to secure a sustainable Great Lakes restoration plan and the funding needed to implement it. The coalition seeks to:

  • stop sewage contamination that closes beaches and harms recreational opportunities;
  • clean up toxic sediments that threaten the health of people and wildlife;
  • prevent polluted runoff from cities and farms that harm water quality;
  • restore and protect high quality wetlands and wildlife habitat that filter pollutants, provide a home for fish and wildlife, and support the region’s outdoor recreation economy;
  • prevent the introduction of invasive species, such as Asian carp, that threaten the economy and quality of life for millions of people.

In March 2017 the Trump administration proposed a 97% cut in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Some progress is being made in restoration of habitat and improvement in water quality. Here are some Illinois success stories.

Cladophora Algae and Harmful Algal Blooms

Excessive growth of the filamentous green alga, Cladophora sp., was one of the most obvious symptoms of eutrophication in the Great Lakes between the 1950s and 1970s. During the latter part of this period, a large amount of research was conducted to determine the causes of excessive Cladophora growth. While various factors, including nitrogen, phosphorus, temperature and irradiance were found to influence Cladophora growth, phosphorus appeared to be the key factor responsible for excessive growth, and phosphorus abatement was seen as the most effective method of solving the problem. This approach appeared to be validated by the decline in the abundance of Cladophora and other algae in the 1980s following the removal of phosphorus from detergents, improved phosphorus removal by sewage treatment plants, and changes in agricultural practices designed to reduce phosphorus runoff from land – actions that resulted from a 1983 amendment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

In the past five to ten years, excessive Cladophora growth has re-emerged as a management problem in parts of the Great Lakes. This has resulted in public complaint, generally related to the decline in aesthetic conditions near the lakeshore. Other negative impacts include human health hazards (e.g. Cladophora mats may promote the growth or retention of pathogens), the clogging of water intakes (including those of power plants), the loss of recreation opportunities, and declining lakefront property values. In addition to direct impacts on humans, excessive Cladophora growth may have significant impacts on ecosystem functions and properties such as nutrient cycling, energy flow and food web structure. More info.

A June 2006 report Something’s Amuck, Algae Blooms Return to Michigan Shores by the the Michigan Environmental Council has more on this problem and what can be done to solve it.

A presentation by Michael Evanoff of Michigan DNR Bay City State Recreation Area, Muck Management Uncensored examines the history of "muck management" at this location.

An article Green Disposal of a Green Menace was published in the Great Lakes Echo on July 30, 2013. This article discusses options for disposal of Cladophora algae, including composting and possibly using it in the production of biofuels.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure The Beach Manager's Manual - Harmful Algal Blooms.

The NOAA Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health (CEGLHH) used to hold a series of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Stakeholder Workshops in Great Lakes states. The purpose of these workshops was to bring together public health, water, beach/natural resource managers, and tribes to discuss and assess the HAB issue in the state. For additional information, please see:

In February 2008, the Alliance for the Great Lakes issued a press release criticizing the state's draft 2008 305(b) report of impaired waters for failing to document a dramatic increase in algae blooms in Saginaw Bay and along Western Lake Erie.

Invasive Species

There are a number of invasive plant and animal species that inhabit the Great Lakes and disrupt the ecological balance of aquatic life. Two such species are the spiny water flea and zebra mussels. More info on invasive species is available on the Great Lakes Information Network and the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System.

Public Education

The Nonpoint Source Unit (NPS Unit) of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency works to protect rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater and wetlands from pollutants from sources such as urban and construction site runoff, agricultural runoff, hydrologic modification, and resource extraction. Staff work with citizens, citizen groups, local, state, and federal organizations (including government agencies) to develop and implement NPS pollution control projects. Projects range from educational programs (storm drain stenciling) to diverse watershed management projects in urban and rural areas (citizen-lead projects for planning and implementation of best management practices, or "BMPs", to protect water quality).

The Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly Lake Michigan Federation) had a publication called Prescription for Healthy Beaches - Helping You Help Your Beach.

Plastics and other litter, abandoned vessels, and derelict fishing gear have been a long-standing problem for the Great Lakes. In order to begin to address this problem, the Great Lakes community worked together to produce the Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan. The action plan provides scientists, governments, stakeholders, and decision makers a road map for strategic progress to see that the Great Lakes, its coasts, people, and wildlife are free from the impacts of marine debris. It centers around a mission to combat debris through an increased understanding of the problem, preventative actions, reductions in impacts, education and outreach, and collaborative efforts from diverse groups.

An article "Surfing and Saving Lake Michigan" was written by Ingrid Lindfors, co-founder of the Lake Michigan chapter of Surfrider Foundation.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a Powerpoint presentation Clean and Green Marina Program.

The southern Lake Michigan region is a unique place that encompasses urban, industrial, residential, agricultural, and natural settings. There are a number of pressures and concerns in this region that are addressed by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).

In the face of growing populations and limited resources, four regional planning agencies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin (with support from IISG) have committed to work together to manage environmental, economic, and transportation concerns for the future. The Wingspread Tri-State Regional Accord covers 17 counties, nearly 8,000 square miles, and more than 1,500 government entities in the southern Lake Michigan region. This has led to the Tri-State Water Consortium, which will plan for a sustainable, high quality water supply for future generations in the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

The Calumet Restoration Initiative is an ambitious project of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to rejuvenate this depressed region both economically and ecologically. As a result of IISG research, an optimal site for a new environmental center in the Calumet region has been identified. Since then, the Ford Motor Company and other industry supporters have donated $7 million to the project. This year, Sea Grant is funding research to estimate the non-market economic benefits for citizens of the Lake Calumet region from the proposed restoration of the Hegewisch Marsh and the development of the environmental center.

IISG has created several publications to direct fish consumption advisory information to critical populations in urban centers. Contaminants in Fish and Seafood, written for women who are pregnant, who plan to be pregnant, or who have babies or young children, explains the potential health impacts on babies and children from eating even small amounts of mercury or PCB-contaminated fish. The ABCs of PCBs, was written in four languages--English, Spanish, Polish, and Korean--to reach a number of underserved audiences with information about PCBs in fish and their connection to human health.

IISG is funding several research projects focused on heavy metals and mercury, which will be critical for resource managers as they decide where and how to enact remediation efforts in the highly polluted Calumet region and beyond.

Through the U. S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) in partnership with IISG, legislators and agency managers in all Great Lakes states and Canada now have access to the latest science-based Great Lakes monitoring information on which to base policy and management decisions. IISG’s Great Lakes ecosystem extension specialist in the GLNPO office has provided a critical link between research and outreach at the agency.

The State of Illinois turned to IISG (and Chicago’s Port Authority) to educate the shipping industry about aquatic invasive species issues. The result is Stop Ballast Water Invasions, a brochure for the Great Lakes shipping community, which is distributed to ship captains entering the Illinois International Port; Burns Harbor, Indiana; and other Great Lakes ports.

IISG and Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure The Beach Manager's Manual - Harmful Algal Blooms.

The Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health (CEGLHH) focuses on understanding the inter-relationships between the Great Lakes ecosystem, water quality and human health. The Center employs a multidisciplinary approach to understand and forecast coastal-related human health impacts for natural resource and public policy decision-making, and develop tools to reduce human health risks associated with three research priority areas: beach closures, harmful algal blooms, and drinking water quality.

The International Joint Commission (U.S. and Canada) had a Beaches and Recreational Water Quality Workgroup that developed a Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Fact Sheet and several other documents evaluating sources of recreational water quality contamination and reviewing best management practices.

General Reference Documents and Websites

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.

State of the Beach Report: Illinois
Illinois Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg