By Frank Schier
Editor and Publisher
The Rock River Homeowners Association (RRHA), and Rock River Enterprises and Barge (RREB) have raised funds to install a new river-level gauge on the Davis Park seawall at Rockford’s Fordham Dam. This gauge will replace the Auburn Street Bridge gauge, which will be taken down.
Steve Lucas, the president of RRHA and RREB, spearheaded the research and campaign for the new unit to combat conflicting river-level reports and enable the regular operation and flow of the dam.
Many folks on the river have had issues with ComEd, which owns the Fordham dam, about maintaining the recreational pool and how the dam operates during drought and flood conditions. Hopefully, this new gauge will resolve all that.
The gauge is a completely self-contained unit, uploading water levels by satellite feed every 15 minutes, and it is powered by a solar panel.
Lucas said, “We were given permission by Tim Hanson, the Rockford Public Work Dept. Director, to install the gauge at Davis Park, and we are very grateful. Now anyone living on the river or anyone using the river knows if the dam is operating properly.
We are raising private donations for the gauge, and rockriverhomeowners.org has a link to that effort on ‘river height’ page. We raised $5,000, plus we took some from our homeowners fund. We want to put a static gauge at the Auburn Street Bridge and another at the Latham Street Bridge. Our goal is $10,000.
“The new gauge has been up and running for almost a week,” continued Lucas, “I made a call to ComEd today because it has not been in spec since it’s been running.”
Spec stands for “Specification of the Permit” to operate the dam which requires ComEd to maintain the level of the river at the correct recreational level.
Former Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp has replaced Paul Callighan as the public spokesman for ComEd for the Northern Illinois Region.
Lucas asserted, “Gaulrapp has lot to learn. He needs to learn the proper water spec according to the 1975 operating permit for the dam.”
Gaulapp says he does knows what that level is: “We are 700 feet above sea level, and then it’s 702.5.”
Lucas asserts The Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR) is in charge of that permit, and the IDNR’s Office of Water Resources was not available to confirm Lucas’ assertion.
“When the new gauge was installed, I called both Callighan and Gaulrapp, and said their gauge at the dam should be calibrated to the new gauge,” Lucas said, “And I told them they can see that online at rockriverhomeowners.org. We have all four area gauges on one page. Paul Callighan always said to me, ‘Gee, Steve I don’t know why your number off a static gauge is different than our dam gauge reading.’ The reason for that could be that Paul could never tell me the last time their dam gauge had been calibrated, if ever. Now, they can just go to the new gauge, and calibrate it. I don’t know why they haven’t done that yet. The dam’s spillway was completely cleaned last fall, so all readings should be accurate.”
Gaulrapp replied, “I had three conversations with different folks about the river levels today. I had to get a hold of the right person to get down there and adjust the gates, and he is on his way as we speak. He went out there. I respond.”
“ComEd always says the dam is not for flood control. But during the summer when they keep the dam gates open, the river level is dangerously low for a recreational pool with high speed boats towing skiers, or just traveling the river.
Then there are the various boat docks up and down the Rock River, including the Rockford Park District docks, that are stops for the Forest City Queen and boaters in general. If the river is too low they can run aground.
The river level at the Rockford Marina/Prairie Street Brewhouse is now at August drought level. With the new gauge, that is inexcusable.
However an environmental clean up is going on at the old power plant and its old coal pits. Could ComEd be keeping the river low for its own benefit?
“I can’t speculate on that; we have a cleanup in progress. We are not artificially keeping the river high or low. I am and will fully cooperate with Steve and his organizations. And I am ready to cooperate and learn as we go. I look forward to meeting Steve and everyone at the Rockford Marina,” Gaulrapp concluded.