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“Mud to Parks” and “Mud to Marshes” take an out-of-place resource – Illinois River sediment – and identify beneficial uses and locations for this material.

All along the Illinois River and in its connected backwater lakes, sediments from erosion are filling in the waterways. Many areas that were over six to eight feet deep 100 years ago are now less than 18 inches in depth.

There are many consequences of this problem, including less fish and wildlife habitat, lost recreation opportunities, hampered river navigation, increased potential damages from flooding, and diminished tourism potential. As elsewhere, economic and environmental issues are inextricably linked together.

The “Mud to Parks” program seeks to mechanically remove this sediment and create deep-water habitats and over-wintering areas for fish and other wildlife. Dredged material is then transported by river barge or by other means to where topsoil is needed, perhaps in areas that are hundreds of miles away. Once there, the rich Illinois topsoil is placed once again on upland sites where soil is needed to grow prairie plants and trees for parks and natural areas.

The “Mud to Marshes” program is exploring the use of Illinois River sediment to restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana. Because of a lack of river sediment, land subsidence, and man-made alterations, these wetlands are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 30 minutes. Coastal wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges, and provide many vital ecological functions. Illinois River sediments could be used strategically to restore areas and help protect populated areas from future storms.