Golfers at the Harry Semrow Golf Driving Range in Des Plaines could soon be launching golf balls onto an open field that doubles as a reservoir during local flooding.
The driving range, a 37-acre site at the corner of Golf and Rand roads, was identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a possible location for a reservoir as one alternative to an earlier proposal to construct a reservoir at historic Didier Farms near Lincolnshire.
That plan met opposition from citizens and other stakeholders, including the Buffalo Grove village board, which adopted a resolution last September that said the reservoir would have a harmful effect on the property and adjoining properties, as well as the character of the community.
The Army Corps agreed last October to drop the project from its overall flood control plan, which encompasses 26 other projects aimed at limiting flood damage and restoring ecosystems along the Des Plaines River in Cook and Lake counties and southeastern Wisconsin. It includes construction of levees, flood walls and reservoirs, and could cost up to $450 million and take 20 years to implement.
All projects would require congressional approval.
Building reservoirs at the driving range in Des Plaines, as well as at the Fullerton Woods Forest Preserve in River Grove, would provide the same amount of compensatory storage -- space for water that makes up for space lost to buildings and other development -- as the original proposed reservoir at Didier Farms, according to Jeff Zuercher, the Army Corps project manager.
Officials say the two reservoirs are needed to prevent impacts from three proposed levees along the Des Plaines River in Des Plaines, River Grove and on the Schiller Park-Franklin Park border.
Both sites are owned and operated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, whose staff support of both projects, according to district spokeswoman Karen Vaughan.
Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, whose 9th District includes both sites, said he wants to evaluate the potential environmental impacts on the forest preserves before deciding whether to support the projects.
"In general, obviously flood control is important. People are tired of their homes being flooded. But there's got to be a happy medium," Silvestri said. "I've been a victim myself of home flooding, but we can't let the forest preserve become the regular depository of everybody's water.
"We can push both, which is flood control for people and protection of the woods for people, without a great deal of controversy."
Forest preserve district officials agreed that consideration of the Des Plaines location "would be acceptable contingent upon continued availability of the site for use as a driving range," according to an Army Corps report released last week that proposes the Des Plaines and River Grove sites as reservoir locations.
"The idea is these reservoirs would leave both forest preserves usable when they're not being utilized for compensatory storage," Zuercher said. "The golf driving range would stay a driving range. It would just be dug out a little deeper."
The project calls for using the existing grass area to create a reservoir of 200 acre-feet. The impact to trees surrounding the driving range would be minimized, officials said.
Engineers have identified a route for a potential ditch or pipeline that would connect the proposed reservoir to the Des Plaines River, nearby Weller Creek, or both. Zuercher said it's expected that after a big flood, "water would stay there a couple days, but not much longer."
So would golfers be able to hit golf balls onto the range if it were filled with water?
"We haven't looked at the final layout and what that means," Zuercher said. "I would imagine it's possible. ... I don't know whether that's something you'd want to do or whether it's feasible for a driving range to do that kind of thing.
"We would design (the reservoir) so that when it empties out, there wouldn't be golf balls in the Des Plaines River."
Zuercher said the Army Corps is not releasing the estimated project costs of the two proposed reservoirs, but said they fall in line with the overall $450 million cost of the entire Des Plaines River flood control plan.
For any of the projects to become a reality, the Army Corps would need a local government sponsor, such as a forest preserve district, state, county or municipality, to fund 35 percent of project costs. The federal government would fund 65 percent.
In the case of the Des Plaines and River Grove reservoirs, the Army Corps would ask the forest preserve district to operate and maintain the reservoirs once constructed, Zuercher said.
The Army Corps expects to finalize its report by midsummer, then send it to Congress later this year. The Army Corps' latest report is available for public review and comment at http://1.usa.gov/1cvDvG2.