Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Illinois National Guard soldiers move sandbags through flood waters at East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, on June 12, 2019, as they construct a sandbag levee to control flooding in the community. (Barbara Wilson / Illinois National Guard)

27 Illinois Counties Eligible for Federal Aid After Near-Record Flooding

Steady rain throughout much of the spring led to the state’s worst flooding in more than 25 years, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. More than two dozen counties can now apply for federal funding to help with recovery efforts.

(Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)

House Committee Votes to Boost Funding for Great Lakes Restoration

The bill, which still needs approval in the full House and the Senate, would expand a 10-year effort to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, manage invasive species and reduce runoff pollution in the Great Lakes.

(Free-Photos / Pixabay)

Field Museum Joins Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

The Field Museum will be at the center of Chicago’s youth climate strike Friday as activists across the globe hold what is expected to be one of the largest environmental demonstrations in the history of the planet.

The South Shore Nature Sanctuary features 6 acres of dunes, wetlands, woodlands and prairies. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Ald. Leslie Hairston Stands By Comment That Nature Sanctuary is ‘Dead’

The fate of a 6-acre nature sanctuary on the city’s South Side is at the center of a debate over Tiger Woods’ $30 million plan to transform two golf courses. And it’s health is also in question. We go for a visit.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Justin Widloe holds a bighead carp. (Chad Merda / Forest Preserve District of Will County)

In Joliet, Commercial Fishers Join the Fight Against Asian Carp

If Asian carp invade the Great Lakes, experts say the fish would have a devastating effect on the marine food chain and the region’s $7 billion fishing industry. We get a look at efforts to keep them out of Illinois waterways.

A field of 10,000 cabbages in one of the Garfield Park Conservatory’s outdoor gardens is the centerpiece of a new “living exhibit” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Brian Kinyon / Chicago Park District)

10,000 Cabbages Growing in Garfield Park for New ‘Living Exhibit’

A pair of Danish architects hope to make a statement and spark conversations about food production with their new exhibit that’s part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Sean Spicer served as White House press secretary under President Donald Trump. (

Protest Planned Ahead of Sean Spicer’s Visit to NEIU

A group of Northeastern Illinois University students, faculty, staff and alumni plan to protest a sold-out event Thursday featuring former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

One of 52 Blanding’s turtles released Wednesday at a DuPage County Forest Preserve site. (Ashley Hosmer / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)

52 Endangered Blanding’s Turtles Released in DuPage County

After spending their first year at Chicago’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, dozens of endangered Blanding’s turtles were released into the wild as part of a preservation effort that started more than 20 years ago.

PFAS foam in Van Ettan Lake in northeastern Michigan. (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality / Flickr)

Group Calls on Illinois, Great Lakes States to Take Action on ‘Forever Chemicals’

The National Wildlife Federation warns that pollution from PFAS chemicals – often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down over time – could be one of the most serious threats facing the Great Lakes region. 

An image of rice fields in Ubud, Bali, submitted as part of the study by an archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. (Lucas Stephens / University of Pennsylvania)

Humans Have Been Altering the Planet for at Least 3,000 Years, Study Finds

Humans in many areas of the world were farming, burning forests, grazing their animals and causing major changes to the environment some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. 

French children release balloons into the air during a D-Day remembrance ceremony at the United States Army Air Forces Transport Memorial in Picauville, France, June 1, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Devin Boyer)

Could Illinois Be the Next State to Ban Balloon Releases?

Five U.S. states have passed laws regulating the intentional release of balloons amid growing concerns over the risk they pose to wildlife. Illinois could be one of the next states to take action.

(Skitterphoto / Pixabay)

New Illinois Law Boosts Funding for Clean Water Infrastructure, Jobs

The new Clean Water Workforce Pipeline program will train workers for water-related jobs, such as those required for treating wastewater and replacing lead pipes. 

In a photograph titled “West Bull Nose,” Brad Temkin depicts one of the exits of Chicago’s Deep Tunnel. (Brad Temkin / The Field Museum)

From Tunnel to Tap: Field Exhibit Explores Hidden Beauty of Water Systems

Chicago photographer Brad Temkin offers a rare look at the hidden network of tunnels and infrastructure designed to deliver water, including Chicago’s 109-mile Deep Tunnel.

(Free-Photos / Pixabay)

New Initiative Aims to Bring Solar Energy, Jobs to Chicago’s South Side

Chicago nonprofit Blacks in Green is partnering with Sunrun, the country’s largest residential solar company, to expand access to solar opportunities on the city’s South Side.

Research by the Humane Society of the United States has found that many puppy mills cited by state agencies went on to receive entirely clean inspection reports from the USDA. (Courtesy Humane Society of the United States)

Amid Lax Enforcement, New Bill Aims to Crack Down on Negligent Animal Dealers

Legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi seeks to reverse a trend of declining enforcement of animal welfare laws under the Trump administration. 

“Choral” combines visuals depicting reefs with a musical score designed to spark curiosity about the underwater coral ecosystem. (Courtesy Northwestern University)

The Beauty of Coral Reef, Captured on 89 Giant LED Panels

A new installation combining art, architecture and technology provides an immersive look at the underwater world of reefs.

General Iron’s scrap metal yard at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. in Lincoln Park. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

EPA Consent Order Requires General Iron to Reduce Air Pollution

New rules for a scrap metal yard on the city’s North Side require the facility to reduce emissions of potentially cancer-causing compounds after it violated federal air pollution standards last summer.

This Aug. 15, 2019 satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a close-up view of a fire southwest of Porto Velho Brazil. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, said the country has seen a record number of wildfires this year as of Tuesday, Aug. 20. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Amazon Fires ‘Heartbreaking,’ But Global Outcry Offers Hope

News of a spike in wildfires in the Amazon led to an international outcry aimed at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who responded over the weekend by authorizing the deployment of 44,000 military troops to put out the fires. 

(Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

Shedd Sea Lion Dies After Complications from Acute Liver Failure

Ty, an 18-year-old California sea lion, had been living at the aquarium since 2005. Animal caretakers and veterinarians began monitoring him last week after noticing an uncharacteristic decline in his appetite.

(Courtesy The Chicago Brewseum)

Field Museum, Evanston Brewery Introduce Beer Inspired by 1893 World’s Fair

A new dry-hopped cream ale is made from the same types of barley and corn found in the museum’s original collections from 1893, the same year more than 27 million visitors flocked to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

(SD-Pictures / Pixabay)

Study: Pollution Linked to Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Living in areas with poor air quality increases one’s likelihood of suffering from depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, according to a new study by University of Chicago researchers.


New Law Allows Illinois to Set Own Restrictions on Greenhouse Gases

The state had been prohibited from settings its own emissions targets for more than 20 years. Lawmakers are now expected to focus on an aspirational clean energy bill with the goal of moving Illinois to 100% clean energy by 2050.

(a4gpa / Flickr)

Artificial Light is Changing Animal Behavior in Chicago, Study Finds

Using satellite images and data on wildlife activity, scientists determined that artificial light levels found in more than a third of the city are altering the circadian rhythm and behaviors of animals throughout the city.

Two southern sea otter pups arrived at Shedd Aquarium in July after being rescued in California. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

Rescued Sea Otter Pups Make Behind-the-Scenes Debut at Shedd Aquarium

No makeup was necessary for a pair of fuzzy sea otter pups the aquarium showed off to the media this week. “They get cuter every day,” said Tracy Deakins, a senior trainer of otters and penguins.

(Marco Verch / Flickr)

Pritzker Signs Bill Redefining ‘Local Foods’ in Illinois

The new law is expected to help Illinois-based food producers and manufacturers compete for contracts that prioritize locally sourced foods.

The Blanding’s turtle is classified as endangered in Illinois. (Courtesy Chicago Wilderness)

How the Weakened Endangered Species Act Could Impact Illinois

The Trump administration’s move to effectively weaken protections under the landmark law could have stark consequences for the 480 plant and animal species classified as endangered or threatened within Illinois.