Watershed Spotlight: 9 Lakes Watershed (Lake & McHenry Co., IL)

Welcome to our first watershed spotlight Blog post!  I would first like to do a shout out to the recently retired Patty Werner of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (LCSMC).  Her enduring watershed work in Lake County, IL has had a lasting impression far beyond the county borders and has greatly influenced many of us to work harder will limited resources and really push to improve the stakeholder process.  The IllinoisLakes Blog wishes her the best in her retirement.

With the IllinoisLakes Blog being an outreach component tool of the Illinois Lakes Management Association (ILMA), there will always be a focus on lakes directly; however our lakes our driven by the landscape processes within the watershed which is also a key concern of ILMA.  What happens in the lakes of Illinois and any other lake on the face of our planet is heavily driven by what is happening in the watershed.  Some of these things are taking place right at the shoreline and some miles away.  The end result is that the lake is the basket that catches it all, holds it or modifies it, and then sends it downstream.

While a brief introduction to the watershed concept may be in order here, it is not the sole directive of this blog post and for clarity we may need to do a follow up post to close that loophole.  In the meantime we suggest a 90 second primer here.  Simple youtube video distilling the concept.  We ultimately see the watershed byproducts in our lakes and managing the end result in the lake, so why not control the source?  More on that later.

On to the 9 Lakes Watershed, a culmination of the 9 Lakes Watershed Plan.  The watershed group originally sprung from the formation of the 4 Lakes Initiative, a meeting of local lake groups forming to discuss watershed approaches which have significant impacts on in-lake processes.  The group had been meeting for nearly two years, when a chance meeting with representatives of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) at a presentation provided to the Fox River Ecosystem Partnership (FREP), met and discussed a partnership to include the totality of 9 lakes bordering on common watersheds in western Lake/eastern McHenry County.  We apologize for the numerous acronyms and links above.

As the name suggests, the ground-floor stakeholder group consists of 9 lakes (Lake Fairview, Slocum Lake, Bangs Lake, Lake Napa Suwe, Tower Lakes, Lake Barrington, Timber Lake, Island Lake, and Woodland Lake).  The planning process also includes all the interconnected waterways such as creeks and streams and the three outlets to the Fox River.  Each of these groups has faced unique challenges in maintaining their perspective lakes, none necessarily more important than the other.  The planning group also includes all of the perspective communities and agencies that have a collective geographic presence within the watershed.  Villages include Island Lake, Wauconda, Port Barrington, Volo, Hawthorn Woods, Lake Barrington, Tower Lakes, and Unincorporated portions of Lake and McHenry Counties, IL.

The two year extended planning process took place from 2012 through 2014 including a series of formal presentations, facility and lake tours, stakeholder collaboration to identify potential in-lake and watershed landscape issues to be indoctrinated within the 9 Lakes Watershed-Based Plan.  Identifying projects within the watershed plan prioritizes them for EPA funding through the Agency’s 319 Program.  The identified projects can all be seen on the map provided on the 4 Lakes Initiative homepage (previously linked).  The projects range from topics such as shoreline restoration, streambank stabilization, landscape improvements, green infrastructure, and stormwater retrofits to name a few.

The plan also does a token job at identifying the sources of in-lake pollution, be it internal cycling of materials or landscape driven sources.  For example, several of the lakes within the planning area have identified phosphorus as a significant pollutant source (often referred to as “impairment”) within the 9 Lakes Watershed-Based Plan.  Now is the problem already in the lake and needs to be addressed in the lake or is it a landscape based issue that needs to be addressed from a runoff standpoint?  Is it unwise to spend money on in-lake improvements for phosphorus abatement if the source is coming from outside the lake.  These are important factors when the solutions are not cheap.  Phosphorus is just one example of several potential impairments listed within the plan.

The plan also makes an attempt to prioritize these objectives.  Not every project benefits the watershed or inherent downstream water resources in the same way.  Projects most likely to get funded include those which identify multiple partners and entities that will benefit from a successful outcome.  This includes identifying how those partners will continue to manage and maintain the outcome of the project in the future to make sure there is a lasting benefit.

What types of projects were identified in the plans?  Section 3.2 of the plan provides a breakdown of projects by both water body and municipal entity, making it easier to identify potential partners in pursuing a grant based project.  While it can be a great adventure to pursue a grant on your own, it may be worth it to contact someone with experience to make the process a little more streamlined and move the process along, including the documentation process, meeting the timelines and helping identify potential partners from the start.

There are numerous restoration based projects identified within the plan directly tied to shorelines and streambanks.  While their are other in-lake projects identified, it may become increasingly difficult smaller projects without being able to quantify the aggregate benefit.

Slocum Lake is one lake previously discussed within the IllinoisLakes Blog.  We hope to feature some of the other lakes in the near future.  No one lake is perfect, although some exhibit many more water quality related issues than others.  Bangs Lake is the only lake that provides public access.  Some of the lakes may be accessible if you are willing to make the appropriate contacts.

The overarching them to the watershed plan is essentially outreach & education.  Providing citizens and stakeholders and opportunity to voice their opinion (good & bad) and provide educational components in an unimposing and digestible environment.  Watershed planning is somewhat universally similar in the methodology employed to complete each individual plan however the water bodies differ and therefore the road map created in each plan is different.  The template that the road map is created from has been set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is somewhat specific to Illinois, although the format is slowly becoming indoctrinated nationally.

The 9 Lakes Watershed-Based Plan is unique in several ways.  If you compare it to the bulk of many other watershed plans in Lake County or Northeast Illinois, their is a specific focus on lakes, whereas this is typically a stream or creek in-focus.  Additionally there are 3 specific outfall points into the Fox River from each of 3 connected lake to lake systems.  Timber Lake, Tower Lakes, and Lake Barrington represent one system.  Bangs Lake and Slocum Lake represent yet another system, and yet Lake Napa Suwe and Island Lake represent another independent system.  The other remaining lakes are small and interspersed among those three systems.

Specific to a plan of this nature, the watersheds are acknowledged as a whole, but also as independent water bodies (lakes) that have identified improvement projects built into the plan as well.  We recommend that if you have never been part of the process or seen a planning document of this nature, start with the Executive Summary and introduction to get a grasp of the bigger picture before diving in.  We hope to have an introductory Blog Post regarding Watershed Planning in general soon.

~p0sted by Admin