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posted: 7/21/2013 5:00 AM

Editor Gruff, pipelines and our Fox River series

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Remember that gruff first editor of mine? Here's another story, courtesy of him, about the Fox River.

In the late '70s and early '80s, the suburbs were desperate for new water sources. Most towns were on wells, but suburban growth had led to so much water use, there was concern underground water sources soon would be bled dry. The solution was to build massive pipelines from Lake Michigan to the 'burbs, but there was massive debate about which towns would be part of the pipeline consortiums.

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In a memo, Editor Gruff laid the foundation for a story. He mentioned there had been an idea to pull drinking water from the Fox River, but that idea was dismissed "because it pretty much disgusted everyone."

I remember nodding my head in assent; the Fox -- and the DuPage -- rivers were pretty much regarded askance as polluted messes. Even Elgin, with the Fox cutting through the heart of the city, had long ago drilled wells because the once-pristine river of the late 1800s became a source of waterborne diseases by the early 1900s because of so much industrial and recreational use.

But the environmental crusades of the 1960s were resulting in the cleanup of rivers and streams, and about the time of my curmudgeonly editor's memo, Elgin already was making plans to return to the Fox for drinking water.

But the stigma, as well as many of the now-closed industrial buildings, stayed with the river. It wasn't until the past few decades that many of our towns along the Fox made concerted efforts to showcase the river instead of eschew it.

We've been reporting on many of those efforts as they move through the pipeline, as it were. But a meeting in May of the Elgin Downtown Neighborhood Association to discuss the river with neighboring towns planted the seed to do something more.

From that came our summerlong project. Titled "Transformation of the Fox River," it's our most detailed look at what our communities have done to use the river as more of a resource than an annoyance. The series kicked off July 9 with an overview piece by Elena Ferrarin, who talked to a scholar familiar with the river. He supported the thesis that until the past few decades, towns had "turned their backs on the river."

That doesn't mean our communities aren't trying to make up for lost time. A July 11 piece by Marie Wilson in our DuPage and Fox Valley Neighbor editions chronicled Aurora's efforts on the Fox. The timing was perfect, as Aurora had just opened its $18.5 million RiverEdge Park, a pedestrian-friendly venue that hosted its popular Blues on the Fox series, kicked off by blues legend Buddy Guy.

Aurora, the second-biggest town in Illinois, might have a few more resources to do big things, but that doesn't stop other communities from dreaming big. In our second installment, which ran this past Thursday, reporter Susan Sarkauskas noted that relatively tiny North Aurora has a $25 million plan for the river, though even the most ardent supporters say it might be overly ambitious in today's economy. This week, we'll give the lowdown on Geneva, working our way north each week until we finish in Algonquin.

One final thought: This was such a good idea, I'd love to tell you it's mine, but Marie Wilson suggested some interactivity (the current rage in the journalism business, I hear) with our readers. So in each segment, we've invited you to share any favorite stories or photos you might have of the Fox River. After the series concludes, we'll share what you've shared. We'd love to hear from you.

And, yes, that's my email address in the solicitation.

You know where to find me.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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