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New legislation helps Fox Waterway Agency ensure long-term sustainability of system

The Fox Waterway Agency dredges each year in the Fox River and Chain O' Lakes system to remove sediment deep enough for boats to navigate.
The Fox Waterway Agency dredges each year in the Fox River and Chain O' Lakes system to remove sediment deep enough for boats to navigate.

FOX LAKE – New legislation will help the Fox Waterway Agency ensure the long-term sustainability of the waterway system.

The bill will help the agency acquire land to create a site for dredging sediment from the river, according to a news release from state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, who sponsored the bill.

The Fox Waterway Agency needs to increase sediment removal procedures to maintain the Fox River and Chain O’ Lakes, Fox Waterway Agency Director Joe Keller said. Dredging is the process of digging up the sediment and recycling the soil to keep the water clean and keep the lakes deep enough for boats to navigate. 

Once the channel fills up, residents cannot access the area. Although they can request for areas to be dredged, it can take years for the agency to dredge all the acres, Keller said. 

The agency needs a place to put the sediment after it dredges. The state bought a facility in Port Barrington in 1991, but the site sits in a residential area and drew backlash from neighbors, Keller said.

“The purchase was done so with good intentions, but it was done in a neighborhood with homes and rooftops, and a lot of people around the property want the sediment taken out of lakes and river, but they don’t want the process done in their front yard,” Keller said. 

New legislation transfers the 45-acre property, along with a 5-acre lot in Holiday Hills, from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources into the hands of the agency for $1. The agency has one year to sell the property and can use the profits to purchase a different property that will be used for sediment removal.

House Bill 770 was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Aug. 24 and sponsored by Wheeler and state Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry

Wheeler said that besides being a place people love to visit, the Chain O’ Lakes is an economic engine for the area.

“People come from all over Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana to come to the Chain, and they gas up, stay at hotels, go to restaurants and spend money in the area,” she said. “We most certainly want to do whatever we can to enhance the area and improve the water quality.” 

The recycled sediment will be given back to farm fields, parks, gardens, roadways and the community. 

“It is a two-faceted approach to keep waterways clean and navigable and to restore islands, but the added benefit we have is that we get to take those soils we remove and put them back where they belong so they’ll produce the food we all need to live,” Keller said. 

The land acquisition is a victory for an agency that has been unable to keep up with the amount of sediment coming into the lakes. 

Keller estimated that 100,000 cubic yards of sediment enters the system each year. The flooding in July alone brought in that amount. 

“You can’t get it out as quickly as it comes in,” he said. “We are constantly playing a game of catch-up. Can that change? Yes, but it requires more capabilities and resources. A lot of equipment we are using goes back to the ’80s, and lately we are spending more time trying to keep something working. It could take over a week or two to get fixed.”

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