State law aims to increase safety of public dams

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has signed first-of-its-kind legislation that focuses on improving public safety on rivers throughout the state.

House Bill 33, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) and state Sen. Arthur Wilhelmi (D-Crest Hill), creates new warning and enforcement standards on public waterways near dams.

The law gives the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) the ability to establish guidelines for the placement of signs and buoys around 32 publicly-owned dams on navigable waterways such as the Fox, Rock and Kankakee rivers.

“This important legislation will make people more aware of the dangers that these dams possess and create better warnings so they can avoid these hazards,” said Blagojevich. “Too many people have died preventable deaths near dams. We want people to enjoy themselves on the water, but more importantly, we want them to be safe.”

HB 33 was introduced in the wake of two tragedies at the Glen Palmer in Yorkville that claimed the lives of three people in May 2006 and three additional deaths at a low-head dam in Wilmington in August 2006.

Rep. Tom Cross said: “Every year, lives are lost because a boater, kayaker or an individual fishing gets too close to a dam or attempt to cross the dam and gets caught in a re-circulating current that is similar to an intense washing machine of rocks and logs. Not only did Alyssa lose her dad that day, but two brothers, Bruce and Mark Sperling, lost their lives attempting to save him. Alyssa has told me many times that she does not want others to have to go through what she went through when she lost her dad and is pleased that this legislation is now law in Illinois.”

Sen. Wilhelmi added: “I am happy to be part of this legislation that makes our rivers safer. Now, Illinoisans may spend time enjoying the rivers without worrying about the dangers posed by dams.”

Last September, IDNR and the Capital Development Board (CDB) contracted engineering firm Consoer, Townsend, Envirodyne (CTE) to create safety recommendations at publicly-owned dams throughout Illinois.

The dam safety report, which was released July 20, presents options and recommendations to improve the safety of boaters, fishermen and other recreational river users near 25 low-head or run-of-the-river dams on publicly navigable waterways. Not all of the options apply to each of the dams surveyed. The range of options includes:

Installing temporary rock fill;

Dam removal;

Constructing a bypass channel either beside the dam or in the river;

Installing a riffle pool, a series of boulders that help reduce the dangerous current below the dam; and/or

Modifying the face of the dam.

The study will be used to help the IDNR develop new administrative rules on buoys and signs.

The governor’s proposed FY08 budget includes $143,000 to help implement dam safety guidelines and $10 million in capital funding for larger construction projects at dams such as renovation or removal.

The law goes into effect immediately.

from the Aug 7-14, 2007, issue

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