"VERMILION RIVER MIDDLE FORK, ILLINOIS — As a persistent rain pelts the clear, swift Middle Fork of the Vermilion River on a mid-September day, the water swells and rises. Clumps of tree roots hang precariously over the river, exposed by the crumbly, receding banks. Where the bank is firmer, the water has carved out tiny caves.
This is Illinois’s only river to win the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation, and the way the water shapes and gouges the banks is exactly what wild rivers do, changing course and choosing different paths.
But this natural process could create a big problem on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion, because the flood plain that was historically the river’s playground contains 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash, stored in pits near a Dynegy coal-fired power plant that closed in 2011.
That proximity creates a potential risk that currently does not appear to be addressed by federal or state regulation."