Low water levels on the Rock River spark debate

A sketch of the proposed whitewater park development. (Sketch by Hitchcock Design Group)
A sketch of the proposed whitewater park development. (Sketch by Hitchcock Design Group)

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Low water levels on the Rock River sparked another debate last week, as river stewards tapped ComEd for answers to questions about possible malfunctions with the Fordham Dam.

According to Steve Lucas, of Rock River Enterprises, water levels measured 701.9 (701.9 feet above sea level), according to a static gauge at the dam Tuesday afternoon, June 10. That’s below the 702.5 mark ComEd aims for to maintain a recreational water level downtown.

ComEd External Affairs Manager Paul Callighan was alerted of the situation and noted the inconsistency, but did not identify a problem downtown.

I’ve found nothing that would indicate a problem downtown,” Callighan said Wednesday, June 11. “There’s no problem at Auburn Street. There may be problems upstream near Rockton that’s causing low levels, but nothing down here. The differences could also be because of inconsistencies in the river bed, but we have not had a malfunction with the dam. There’s nothing near the dam that would negatively impact water levels.”

Last Wednesday, a gauge on the dam read 702. A static dam at the edge of Davis Park indicated a water level of 701.8.

We will make sure we are at 702.5 within a week,” Callighan said.

Saturday, June 15, levels read between 701.5 and 701.7.

This caused me to come down to Fordham Dam to see if (it) had corrected the failure that the dam was having all last week,” Lucas said. “To my shock, I noticed you have opened the gates 6 inches more from the reading on Wednesday.”

Callighan said the gauge at Auburn Street Bridge was at the correct level and again stated ComEd will be correcting levels at the dam in a week or so.

When Frank Schier, editor and publisher of this paper, asked Callighan if ComEd was purposely keeping water levels low to flush out remediation areas on the east and west sides of the dam, Callighan said that was not the case.

Schier also pointed out that low water levels could damage docks and boats up and down the river, and that ComEd could face litigation for such damages. Last December, Schier’s boat wound up sitting on the bottom of the river because of a dam malfunction.

I find it ironic that this coincides with (ComEd’s) hazardous waste cleanup down here at the dam,” Lucas said. “If the purpose of Fordham Dam is to maintain a recreational pool, when will (they) start doing that? They flooded us out for 20 years, now for the last three, there’s been no water in the river. It’s June, and ComEd has us at August water levels.”

ComEd is removing contaminants and debris on both sides of the river near the dam. The cleanup will also remove contaminants identified from samples of the fill material. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Site Remediation Program is overseeing the project.

The cleanup is part of a preliminary plan to develop the area near the dam into a riverfront park that would include white-water rafting and other activities.

From the June 18-24, 2014, issue

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