Zoology professor appointed to state advisory committee

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

An SIUC professor who specializes in stream ecology was selected to serve on an Illinois advisory committee to implement new quality standards for the state’s water bodies.

Matt Whiles, a professor of zoology, was added to the six-member committee, created by Illinois EPA director Lisa Bonnett and the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s acting director Warren Goetsch, earlier this month.

The first meeting was held Nov. 18 to determine a numeric standard that will be implemented by the Illinois EPA to reduce nutrient pollution in the state, Whiles said.


“We’re working with existing data and our collective experiences working on these issues,” Whiles said.

While the Illinois Pollution Control Board already restricts known toxic materials from entering the watershed, nutrients found in sewage and fertilizers — specifically phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen — negatively impact ecosystems in a different way, Whiles said.

“Nutrients have this kind of indirect effect locally, and that’s made them a little more difficult to deal with rather than something that’s directly toxic,” Whiles said.

Phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen accelerate growth of algae and algal blooms in water bodies that can starve aquatic life of oxygen and, in some cases, produce bacteria that are also harmful to humans. Whiles said Campus Lake is an example.

The Illinois EPA wants the numeric standard to reduce the nitrate-nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Illinois waters by 45 percent, Whiles said. He expects the committee to determine a numeric standard for review in about 12 to 18 months. 

“Right now, I can tell you almost any standard we come up with, a lot of surface waters are going to be in violation of that standard,” Whiles said. “We have fairly high nutrients in our water.”

And nutrient pollution in Illinois has the potential to reach far beyond the state borders.


A large area of low-oxygen water that can kill marine life — also known as a “dead zone” — in the Gulf of Mexico expanded to 6,474 square miles in part because of nutrient-rich water carried down the Mississippi River, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in August. 

Whiles said he could not rule out if climate change could be a factor in the increased number of algal blooms in the state.

“Certainly when we have warm and dry conditions, that facilitates [algal blooms],” he said.

Although Whiles will not be responsible for implementing the standards once they have been approved, he acknowledged there are many challenges ahead for municipalities and farmers if they are going to abide by the new code. 

“The next task beyond our committee will be ‘How do we get there?'” Whiles said.

Bill Lukitsch can be reached at 536-3325, [email protected] or on Twitter @Bill_LukitschDE .