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Illinois state climatologist: Prepare for more drought in 2013

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 9:43 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — ST. LOUIS — The Great Drought of 2012, with its ruined crops and low river levels, will likely continue through next year, according to Jim Angel, the Illinois state climatologist.

The Missouri and Mississippi river basins are both struggling with persistent drought conditions, said Angel, who spoke Thursday morning during a conference on the future of the Mississippi River.

"So what that means is that it's going to take a long time to get out of that mess," Angel told attendees of the Big River Lives conference, held at a hotel in downtown St. Louis. The conference brought together scentists, conservationists and government and industry water experts.

"I don't see tropical storms running through Oklahoma any time soon," Angel said. "It's going to be a long, slow recovery from this particular drought."

The drought's impact led the Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday to approve a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, to urge President Barack Obama to take emergency action to ensure water levels do not fall below a level needed by commercial navigation on the Mississippi River. The measure also directs the Army Corps of Engineers to take steps to keep barge and other traffic moving up and down the river.

In addition to drought, the Big Muddy faces a wide range of human-made threats, posing enormous problems for people who depend on the river from Minnesota to the river delta in Louisiana, according to the experts who spoke at the conference.

These hazards include the loss of huge amounts of sediment, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous from farm fertilizer run-off, altered hydrology because of dam construction and invasive aquatic species, such as silver carp and zebra mussels.

Nancy Stoner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's acting water administrator, acknowledged the dangers facing the river. But Stoner also spoke with optimism about the opportunities that entreprenuers and government agencies are finding to restore the river and manage it sustainably.

"What we're talking about are things that are being wasted that are valuable," Stoner said. "So nutrients are valuable. Energy is valuable. So we can't afford to throw away sewage. To throw away the run-off from farm fields."

For Stoner, the solutions are at hand.

"And it's up to us to find them and work together," she said.

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