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updated: 6/2/2014 5:22 PM

Removal of old dams will improve habitat and safety, forest district says

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  • This dam on the Des Plaines River at Ryerson Woods near Deerfield was removed in 2011. The Lake County Forest Preserve District plans to remove the remaining two dams on the river as soon as this year.

       This dam on the Des Plaines River at Ryerson Woods near Deerfield was removed in 2011. The Lake County Forest Preserve District plans to remove the remaining two dams on the river as soon as this year.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2011

 
 

The last two dams on the Des Plaines River in Lake County could be removed this year.

Known as low-head dams, the old concrete structures span the river at points in the MacArthur Woods and Captain Daniel Wright Woods forest preserves north and south of Route 60 in the Mettawa area.

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"They were used for agricultural purposes to cross the river," said Jim Anderson, the district's natural resource manager.

On Monday, the forest district's land preservation and acquisition committee recommended the district negotiate an agreement with Hollister Inc., for a permanent easement through its property to access the dam from the west. An east approach is not considered feasible because heavy equipment would have to move through a dedicated state nature preserve.

The full board is expected to approve the measure at its meeting June 10.

Once that is settled, the district will be ready to proceed with removal of the dams as part of an effort to open the stream corridor for fish and wildlife migration, improve the habitat for aquatic life and make the river safer for kayakers and other users.

Bids for both projects were opened last week and the results are scheduled for board approval in July.

"Everything is ready to go with Wright Woods, and we almost have all of our permits," Anderson said. "We hope to get both done this year," he added.

The dams essentially consist of about a 2½-foot lip that fronts a concrete apron about 25 feet wide and spanning the river. They have been in place since about the late 1930s, Anderson added, although he was not aware of specific dates.

"These are more just crossings for farmers," he said.

In 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that reduced flow above the dams was causing a decline in habitat quality because of sediment deposits, and the low profile made them a potential hazard to paddlers.

Last year, the district agreed to accept up to $750,000 from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to remove the dams.

The projects are part of the Illinois Dam Removal Initiative, announced in fall 2012 by Gov. Pat Quinn, to remove 12 dams in Cook County on the Des Plaines and Chicago rivers. The Lake County projects were added.

In early 2011, a sheet metal dam at the Ryerson Conservation Area near Deerfield was the first of three dams on the Des Plaines River in Lake County to be removed.

"It's to reconnect the stream," Anderson said of the dam removals.

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