ALTON — American Water Co. gave a $3,000 boost to an organization’s mission of improving river quality and conserving water Thursday — appropriately, outside the company’s Alton water treatment plant.
"All of us live in the Mississippi River watershed — from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians — it is the third-largest drainage system in the world," said Kristian Gustavson, co-founder of Below the Surface, recipient of the grant. "It comes down to the individual: awareness, action and responsibility."
He said as the Mississippi River flows from its headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., it collects sediment, soil and pollutants, and eventually dumps the materials in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The Mississippi River has heavy loads of non-point source pollution," he said, meaning the pollution comes from multiple sources along the way. At the end of the journey, he said, the results of the pollution are evident.
"There is a dead zone in the Gulf the size of New Jersey where oxygen levels are too low to support life" because of pollution.
He also said the Pacific Ocean has a "central Pacific" gyre, a circular form made of accumulated plastic bottles floating in an area "two times the size of Texas."
Gustavson, of Libertyville, Ill., near Chicago, said it takes 90 days for water to travel the length of the Mississippi River, so the organization’s new effort to reduce pollution is called "90 Ways in 90 Days." He said Below the Surface will use the grant to make a "hard copy," or workbooks, to carry out elements of the plan, which will be available to schools, park personnel and conservation groups.
"They are everyday activities, things we can do in our lives to conserve water and clean water," he said, such as reducing the use of disposable plastic water bottles and minimizing use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides, among other tips for home, school and office.
"This grant will help us reach out and encourage everyone to get involved and clean up our water sources, specifically the Mississippi River," Gustavson said.
While the tips are applicable to all watersheds, the water company said the program is to raise awareness of upstream action and downstream impact, particularly in the Des Plaines and Mississippi watersheds.
The daily tips will be posted on the organization’s Web site, www.belowthesurface.org. The Web site also contains information on its other efforts regarding clean water, monitoring water quality and ecologically friendly products.
Besides the Chicago area location, Below the Surface has an office in San Diego.
Officials from the water company, the city of Alton, the village of Godfrey and state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, attended the ceremony, nestled in between limestone bluffs at the west edge of the city, within view of the massive Mississippi. The plant is located at 1200 W. Broadway, west of Piasa Park and above the Great River Road (Illinois Route 100).
Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, touted the importance of clean water not only for human consumption, but also for wildlife and recreational use.
"It is important to note how much we get from our surroundings," Miller said. "Never forget how much water sustains us, our communities and our economy. It’s worth fighting for."
The money is coming from the water company’s Environmental Grant program, which has provided $114,000 to more than 25 projects in the United States, including four in Illinois.
Cheryl Norton, vice president of operations for Illinois-American Water Co., presented the check.
"We’re all here to celebrate our environmental stewardship with our environmental grant program," she said. "We like to focus on watershed projects."
She said a program the company has in partnership with the Great Rivers Land Trust, set up as part of obtaining a permit for the water treatment plant, has saved 7,200 tons of soil from eroding into the river.