The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other agencies’ ongoing initiative to remove obsolete and unsafe dams on rivers in the region – including the Fox River – is resulting in better water quality, more fish and fish diversity, no algae blooms or sediment problems and no ongoing maintenance costs.
It may also result in removal or partial removal of dams in Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles officials said.
In an hour-long webinar presentation Tuesday followed by media questions, officials from the state, Kane County, river and watershed advocates discussed benefits of dam removal in other areas.
The state has $20 million in its latest capital bill that is allocated for dam removal on the Fox, DuPage, Des Plaines and Chicago rivers.
Wes Cattoor, capital programs engineering studies chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said they are involved in initial discussions with Batavia city officials for removal of the Batavia Dam near Batavia City Hall.
“It’s under investigation,” Cattoor said. “We have no formal agreement signed for removal, but the study we anticipate should be moving forward here in the new future.”
Batavia City Administrator Laura Newman confirmed that there is a discussion about removing the North Batavia Dam – but also a collaboration with the Batavia Park District about a plan to remove the dam but maintain Depot Pond.
“Our unique problem is there is a great possibility that removing this dam would drain Depot Pond,” Newman said. “It’s a prominent feature in our downtown.”
Newman said the plan would be to create a berm that would allow the Fox River to connect to the pond.
“If we put a bike and walking path on the berm, that would be yet another connection on the east and west sides of the Fox River,” Newman said.
This might enable the city to qualify for grants to help pay for it, she said.
The South Batavia Dam was removed in 2003, officials said.
State officials also plan to have a similar discussion with Geneva city officials regarding the Geneva Dam.
Cattoor said in discussions about five years ago with Geneva officials, the city had been leaning toward a rock ramp modification rather than a full removal. State files show a previous study in 2008 was related to such a design that would extend downstream of the dam.
Nothing happened because it would have cost the $2 million to $3 million to remove the dam, Mayor Kevin Burns stated in a text message. The state would not pay for it and the city did not have resources to do it, according to his text.
“The city suggested options of leaving it as is, remove it entirely or remodel to remove part and create a chute so canoers can continue south,” Burns stated in the text.
But now that there are state funds available for dam removal, Rick Pohlman, Office of Water Resources, Capital Programs Division manager for Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said Geneva can be included in the appropriation.
“The state stands ready to help facilitate dam removal to improve public safety, ecosystem and recreation in addition to other important benefits as promoted by our colleagues during the webinar,” Pohlman stated in an email. “The appropriation referred to during discussion (Tuesday) can be used to remove the dam at Geneva.”
St. Charles Dam
St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina said this was the first he was hearing that the state would be willing to pay dam removal costs.
“I’m sure if that was the case, I would sit down and have a conversation about it – the pros and cons,” Rogina said. “Preliminary engineering is $1 million and that needs to be done.”
Rogina said city officials would want to know if the river’s water levels would remain the same if the dam was removed.
Last year, St. Charles officials considered replacing the existing dam in the downtown area with whitewater and recreational channels separated by a man-made island accessible via pedestrian bridges, along with other improvements.
The St. Charles Active River Project details plans for the dam in the downtown. Department of Natural Resources funds could probably be used to support this plan, DNR spokesman Peter Gray stated in an email.
One of the main areas of danger regarding the dams is how the water turns into a hydraulic roller where boaters and fishermen can be sucked in and drown, according to the presentation.
In terms of aquatic life, the dams are a barrier to fish being able to move freely – which is important for overall water quality and ecology of the region’s waterways, said Steve Pescitelli, a fisheries biologist with IDNR.
“I’ve been a stream biologist for northeastern Illinois. I’ve been working up here for about 25 years and throughout most of that time, I have been dealing with the whole dam issue,” Pescitelli said. “The effects of dams are well known.
Pescitelli said a study of the Fox River’s 15 dams showed degraded habitat and water quality accompanied by algae blooms.
Fish become isolated and unable to access tributary streams to forage and colonize, Pescitelli said.
But fish collections measured before and after dam removals showed a three-fold increase in fish species, an eight-fold increase in total fish and a 40% improvement in IBI (Index of Biological Integrity, he said.
The Index of Biological Integrity is a scientific tool used to identify and classify water pollution problems.
“It is rare in your career in any field to find some solution to a problem that is so immediate and measurable – but that’s what we have,” Pescitelli said. “We’re pretty excited about this whole dam removal progress.”
Once the last two dams are removed from the Des Plaines River, it will open up hundreds of miles of water to fish and mussels, Pescitelli said.
Another aspect to dam removal is the cost of maintenance.
“Any man-made structure in a stream requires long-term maintenance,” Pescitelli said.
Other removal or modification projects under consideration include dams in North Aurora, Aurora, Elgin and Montgomery, according to the presentation.