Protecting Watersheds in the Midwest

We all live in a watershed.

A watershed is a geographic area where precipitation falls from the sky and flows across the land into streams, rivers, lakes or oceans. The largest watershed in North America, the Mississippi River Basin, is made up of many smaller watersheds that eventually flow through the Mississippi River system to the Gulf of Mexico.

Water quality is affected by the land and its many uses as precipitation flows to the Gulf or another ocean. With farming a primary land use in the Midwest, the flowing water can pick up and transport soil, minerals, fertilizers and manure from the agricultural land. AFT encourages farmers to adopt practices that reduce their overall impacts on water quality.

AFT is currently working, or plans to work, in these Illinois watersheds:

Upper Salt Fork Watershed (2010-2015). This very flat and agriculturally rich watershed lies entirely within Champaign County and flows southward to the Vermilion River. AFT chose to work in the Upper Salt Fork because the area is dominated by row crop farming and has a well-organized watershed stakeholder group with excellent local leadership from the Soil and Water Conservation District. AFT promotes soil conservation and nutrient management practices in the watershed.

Lake Mauvaise Terre Watershed (2013-2016). The Illinois EPA and the Illinois Council of Best Management Practices' Keep It for the Crop program designated the Lake Mauvaise Terre Watershed as a priority. This very small watershed feeds into Lake Mauvaise Terre, the backup water supply for the city of Jacksonville in Morgan County, Illinois. Jacksonville has a dredging project underway to remove sediment and increase storage capacity. AFT obtained an IL EPA grant and matching funds to do outreach and education about conservation practices to farmers and landowners to reduce the amount of sediment reaching the lake.       

Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed (since 2015). Located in Macoupin County, the rolling terrain of the 137,694 acre Upper Macoupin Watershed has a mix of row crops and livestock agriculture. UMC is located with the larger Macoupin Creek watershed, one of the three highest phosphorus yielding major watersheds in Illinois. The local planning committee identified reducing phosphorus and sediment losses as the primary objective of the project. In 2016, the UMC Watershed Partnership was awarded $1 Million through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Regional Conservation Partnership Program” or RCPP. Funding from RCPP is for financial and technical assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices. A group of 14 partners, led by AFT, is contributing $1.2 Million to the project for education and outreach, technical assistance, field trials and water quality monitoring. If you are a farmer or landowner in the watershed, contact Kris Reynolds to learn about programs available to you.  

Vermilion Headwaters Watershed (beginning in 2015). The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed is a 254,322-acre rural watershed encompassing parts of Livingston, Ford, Iroquois and McLean Counties in Illinois. It is a sub-watershed of the Vermilion-Illinois River Basin, which has been identified as one of the top five watersheds contributing the most to nitrogen run-off in Illinois. AFT is working with a well-organized local group of partners and watershed farmers to stem the loss of nitrogen from farmlands. If you are a farmer or landowner in the watershed, contact Kris Reynolds to learn about programs available to you.  

Interested in learning more about our work from personal stories? Explore and read watershed profiles via our Conservation Story Map!