ComEd’s dam policy stirs debate

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-OLIlSZYJHI.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jon Bystrom’, ‘Jam heading for the dam: This log jam under the Jefferson Street Pedestrian Bridge is just one of many up and down the river on other bridges, docks and other extrusions into the river during the current high water.’);

With the Rock River rising, many say ComEd should let more water through the Fordam Dam

With all of our recent rainstorms, the Rock River rises and rises, and remains closed to boat traffic, as it was for the entire Memorial Day weekend. Yet ComEd’s Regional External Affairs Manager Paul Callighan told local media that the company’s Fordam Dam is not a flood control device.

In the meantime, tree trunks and limbs and other debris are being swept from shore by the strong current of the high water. Bridges and private and public docks suffer the impact and collection of this downstreaming mass, including whole trees, some 30 feet or more in length.

Sump pumps are running 24 hours in homes along the river, and sandbags are being placed to protect homes. Several streets are closed due to the high water. Martin Park is under water, and Sportcore I is going under.

“The Fordam Dam is called a run-of-the-river dam, which is primarily designed to keep a pool of water under low-water, low-flow conditions.” Callighan said. “The pool is between the dam and Auburn Street and Riverside bridges. At some point what happens is that you have so much water coming into that pool from upstream that it just flows over the top of the dam.

“The gates only operate to level the pool itself because the water spills over either side of the gates. The misconception is that the gates themselves can hold back significant amounts of water, but they can’t because it just goes around them. What happens is the height of the river bed increases as it goes up stream, so when you get up by the Riverside bridge, the height of the river bed is above the dam itself. The effect of the riverbed is actually above the crest of the dam,” Callighan said.

Steve Lucas, owner of Rock River Enterprises and Barge, Inc., has been installing embankments and docks on the river for 15 years.

Lucas said the levels up river must be

Continued on page A2 u

Continued from page A1

taken into account by ComEd and its operation of the Fordam Dam.

Lucas, who travels the river almost every day in the spring, said since last summer the river has risen 6.5 feet at the Latham Road bridge, 3.5 feet at the Riverside bridge and 2 feet at Auburn Street bridge.

According to the NOAA Web site the level May 31 at the Auburn Street bridge was 4 feet. On June 1 at 11 a.m., the reading was 4.35 feet. At the other gauge sites, respectively, for the same dates and time, the reading were: Rockton Dam 10.21 and 10.78; Latham 9.8 and 10.3.

Lucas also said we have had such high water in 1993, 1996, 1999, 2000 and now 2004. That’s five times in the last 11 years.

He said those floods have been contributed to by the last 30 years of commercial and private home development. The result of this development of more concrete and storm sewers is a more rapid run-off along the river that must be handled by a dam policy set 30 years ago when the dam was rebuilt.

In 1975, the gates of the dam were fully opened to build new floodgates. There was no surcharge to Rockford homeowner or commercial customers for the rebuilding of the dam, according to Callighan.

The gauge that controls the flood gates is placed 20 feet upstream of the dam at the railroad bridge. Lucas recommended that the height gauge be placed 100 feet from the head of the dam rather than near the gate because the water level drops just near the dam as the gate is opened, and a false reading results.

The water going over the top of dam’s spillway, on either side of the gates, was at least 2 feet, 3 inches deep on May 31. Lucas says that level should only be 1 foot deep to eliminate water backing up in the dam pool, which ComEd maintains is only from the dam to between the Auburn Street and Riverside bridges.

Lucas asked if that is the case, why doesn’t ComEd open the gates to compensate for high water in the dam pool and relieve the much higher accumulation upstream? He noted that the dam was constructed to hold water upstream in times of drought, but its operation has not reflected needs in time of high water.

Current ComEd policy opens the gate at 703 feet above sea level and closes the gate when the level falls to 702 feet above sea level, with a median level of 702.5 feet.

Callighan said, “It’s an automated leveling system that works on that.

“ComEd controls the dam based on Army Corps of Engineers standards,” Winnebago County Sheriff Sgt. Brad Fitz said. “A lot of people think our water problems are because of that dam, but our water problems are because of all the water we’re getting from up north. The rainfall that’s falling north of us in our county and the basins north of us in the Pecatonica and Sugar rivers join at Rockton. That’s where we get our influx of water.

“When the sensor on the dam froze within the last four or five years, the river level downtown dropped 3 to 4 feet, and they didn’t even notice it up by Riverside,” Fitz added. “We also have flooding problems in the southern part of our county. Opening the dam would affect those areas as well.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation. If anyone would like information, they can call us at 987-5940 or the Rock River Information Telephone line, 749-1212,” Fitz said.

Callighan noted some of the comments that had been made in the local media as to controlling the level because of interests downstream. He said: “We don’t do anything to control water levels at the Byron Station. We don’t do anything to control water levels at Marinelli Field.

“The only thing we really do is to try to maintain the recreational pool of water in downtown Rockford at low flow and low river level conditions,” Callighan said.

As to reinstalling the electric hydro-power station at the Fordam Dam, “It’s been

reviewed by us, and it’s been reviewed by

Continued on page A12 u

Continued from page A2

others, and it’s the kind of thing that we couldn’t justify the expense to become feasible,” Callighan said. “The hydro system was closed in 1971 and raised in 1975. That’s when we installed the gates. On the old dam, they used flash boards and had a spillway that turned the generating station. At that time, they cited some deterioration that had occurred in the spillway area, which prompted them to install a new cap on the dam and the new gates.

“I understand that people would like some kind of control over high water, but the facility is not a flood control device that can help under these conditions,” Callighan said.

If the gates were fully opened, Callighan said: “What would happen is you might really reduce the level in the pool for an hour or so, but then the pool would just fill right back in. The dam just maintains the level of the pool, and it’s really not going to be able to do any good upstream or down.”

As to allegations that Burlington Northern had sued ComEd over damage to their railroad bridge from dam waters, Callighan said, “That’s a good question, and I can’t answer that specifically. I’d have to do more research to answer that specifically.”

Callighan concluded by saying ComEd’s operation of the dam is under parameters that were set by the Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois State Department of Natural Resources.

Jim Revers and his family have operated Revers Marina since 1941. In 1953, they installed docks off the Old State Street Theater, and the business has been in their building at 220 N. Water St., since 1960.

“As far as I’m concerned, the river is like a bathtub; if you plug it up, it’s going to fill up,” said Revers. “If they say all of this, why don’t they prove it to us? There’s people up there on Ritter Drive with water in their basements. If we have flood gates, why did they install flood gates in the first place?

“Back then, as I remember it and I can’t prove it, our utilities were supposed to be raised before they even started on rebuilding the dam,” Revers added. “When they did that, they put a 16-inch cap on that dam. If they wouldn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have these problems. They did that for people way up river. If they hadn’t of done that

, we wouldn’t be flooded here downtown and in Loves Park.”

As to Fitz’s contention that the river upstream was hardly affected when the dam sensor froze several years ago, Revers said, Bull—-! Everybody was calling me.”

Revers also said that a few nights ago, the river dropped an inch in a very short amount of time. He went down to the dam to see what was going on, and a ComEd employee had opened the floodgate to let a tree through.

“’What are you doing around here?’ the guy asked me. I said, ‘When the river drops an inch at my place that fast, I know somebody’s down here monkeying around.’” Revers said.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!