Kane County development

Disappearing farmland
Despite value, little protection exists for Midwest farmland

America has lost millions of acres of farmland over the nearly three decades to urban and rural development.
Despite conservation efforts by state and local governments and increased financial incentives for farmers, urban development and the expansion of rural residential real estate over the last 25 years has eliminated farmland across the country at levels not seen since the early 1970s.

Earl Canfield moves an oats bin to the grinder on his farm.

When Being A Family Farm Doesn’t Mean Squat In The Government’s Eyes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets an industry definition for family farms. But that definition doesn’t take acreage size into consideration and can include operations where the family may not own the land, or even farm it. It defines what a family farm is for a consistent technical term in research and policy, which includes farm subsidies.

Since 1955 the Vermilion Power Plant has been storing toxic coal ash in three ponds next to the Middle Fork Vermilion River near Oakwood, Illinois

Loose regulations allow coal ash to threaten river
Middle Fork River at risk from Dynegy coal ash ponds

Each year thousands of families boat down the Middle Fork branch of the Illinois Vermilion River below an embankment that holds back 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge stored in three large ponds. Coal ash pollution is leaching into the river, and the riverbank is eroding under the ponds. We examine what's a stake in this investigative report.

Erosion on the bank of the Middle Fork River near the Dynegy coal ash ponds

Riverbank near coal ash ponds found unstable
Residents, environmentalists worry about a possible collapse

Environmentalists and community members in Vermilion County have expressed deep concern over the pollution from toxic chemicals seeping from large coal ash ponds into the Middle Fork River in Vermilion County. But engineering experts warn there may be a greater risk posed by the collapse of the riverbank holding back more than 600 million of gallons of toxic coal ash.

People canoeing on a river

Protecting the Middle Fork from coal ash: How long is ‘perpetuity?’
Everyone agrees on the 'P' word

Dynegy is planning to close the coal ash ponds at its shuttered Vermilion Power Station near Oakwood, Illinois. The company may propose to remove the toxic coal ash from the banks of the Middle Fork River, or cap the ponds and leave them in place. The Illinois EPA says the river must be protected "in perpetuity." But after Dynegy walks away from the site, what does perpetuity mean?

Illinois environment agency cites energy company for alleged contamination

A former Vermilion County, Illinois, coal plant heavily criticized for contaminating groundwater has received a violation notice for alleged contamination of the Middle Fork River.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cited Vistra Energy Corporation, formerly known as Dynegy Midwest Generation, for alleged violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act at the Vermilion Power Station near Oakwood, Illinois.

Large number of Iowa public schools in range of potential pesticide spray drift

Nine of every 10 public school districts in Iowa have buildings within 2,000 feet of a farm field, making students and teachers susceptible to being exposed to pesticides that drift from the fields when pesticides are sprayed. Yet many school officials interviewed for an IowaWatch/Tiger Hi-Line investigation showed little to no awareness on if or how pesticide drift could affect the staff and students in school buildings.