10 Things You Can Do to Know Your Lake Better

It is important that we step back and consider the group of individuals that are on the fence when it comes to lakes.  There is obviously a dedicated group of individuals that help care for and are directly connected to the management of a water body, but many individuals who are lake or stream side property holders or enthusiasts either feel disengaged or not intelligent enough to become actively engaged with day to day activities.  At the Illinois Lakes Management Association (ILMA), our primary sponsor of the IllinoisLakes Blog we feel “the more the merrier”.

In the context of the title “your lake” it may reference a body of water you currently live on, frequent, or may mean several lakes.  Getting engaged IS important as it helps set directives for your organization and may help them better allocate future funding.  In the case of public or quasi-public lakes it may have the ability to influence outside funding sources.  Perhaps the list below can be used to help assist in influencing involvement as well or better manage overall.  Without further ado:

  1. Seek out your lake management association if you have one 🙂 – to some this is great place to start.  Some groups operate better than others, but observing the initial input and back and forth conversation will allow you to better understand what issues are involved in the overall management of the lake and where your piece of the pie might fit in.
  2. Enjoy some simple ecology.  The water is the source of all life and habitat to so many different species from plants to insects, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.  So many of these things rely on each other to survive, it will make you think twice about reducing shoreline habitat to bulkheads and seawalls which support places for various young fish and other insects to forage.
  3. Find the lake gage.  Hydrology impacts how the lake or water body elevations fluctuate from time to time.  Seeing how the water responds to certain amounts of rainfall is fun.  Precipitation is needed to move stagnant water around from time to time (affecting residence time), so it is an important element in the success of the lake or waterbody.
  4. Get to know the “ins and outs” of the system, literally.  People tend to see these areas as trouble areas but they are extremely useful indicators for monitoring conditions.  If the water coming into the lake is “dirtier” than the water leaving your lake then your lake is soaking up the difference.  If it’s the other way around than you may have an internal cycling problem.  Simple observations can mean a lot.  How to do this with minimal cost may be a future topic of discussion.
  5. Search for documentation regarding your lake.  What seems somewhat tedious in the world of lake management is the oblivious nature at which people base their decisions.  The year is 2017 and there is much more literature out there about lakes and most likely something about your lake!  The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has been under mandate by the Clean Water Act (CWA) to study the watersheds draining to the majority of our streams and lakes and as such has already started a dialogue.  Those of you living in Lake County are likely aware of the fantastic background work completed by the Health Department’s Lake Management Unit.  There are other sources out there in the form of watershed plans as well.  These may all identify issues that can further help you understand your lake.
  6. Have a cold one.  So many of us ignore the lake once the ice cap goes on but there are observations to be made during the winter and colder months as well.  Some trouble areas can be more visible once the vegetation dies back.  This is a great time to do some ground truthing.
  7. Eye in the sky.  If you’ve never taken a detailed look at the area around your lake via aerial photography it’s worth a look.  Looking at various land use and road patterns may lead you to questions as to “how much chloride is coming of that road?”  “Is that a problem?”
  8. Where do those pipes come from?  Many people see water draining from phantom pipes into the lake or stream and think nothing of it.  These pipes serve a purpose and that is to drain water away from somewhere else and keep people reasonably safe from flooding.  The unintended consequence however is that materials other than water comes along for the ride.
  9. Learn the difference between algae and plants.  Reason:  While some animals do consume algae, having it in your lake is usually an indicator of something that is above it natural range.  A little algae is certainly normal but with today’s concerns over potentially harmful algae strains it is time to start reconsidering why the algae may be there in the first place.
  10. Look at the plants in your lake.  Get to know them.  The terms native and invasive are important to know.  If your lake is encumbered by large amounts of invasive species it can be tough for the native species to compete.  The invasive plants have limited end users and by displacing native species they complicate the food web for fish, amphibians, and invertebrates.

~p0sted by Admin

Let’s Talk About Dams Part 2

Part 1 of this Blog post visited dams from a sort of historical perspective as well as provided a glimpse of how dams are viewed and permitted from a regulatory perspective, particularly in the Midwest and the State of Illinois.  It really is a “cliff notes” version of that information as a whole and in any case you should reference the embedded links for more in-depth reading or directly consult an expert.

In the second part of this blog discussion article, the focus will shift more to a water quality slant, with how dams can be viewed as an impact and the subsequent trend toward dam removal.  Although there is no question that dams alter the natural flow regimes of rivers and streams, they are also viewed as historical and are revered by some fishermen and the general public.  Removing dams is at times controversial, and many times expensive to a point where there is little incentive for the owner of said dam to go through the process.

Most certainly there is a distinctive difference between dams on already impounded waters (lakes, ponds, and reservoirs) versus rivers and other moving waters.  While many plants and organisms may be found in both habitats, they may prefer one over the other, for example largemouth bass may prefer impounded waters whereas trout may be more partial to river systems.  This is likely to be partially tied to the conditions that may exist in those two particular environments.  The biggest issue associated with dams is the alteration of riverine systems to an impounded state where the internal ecology of the stream starts to function more like a lake in areas of that stream.  This obviously creates an environment where organisms better suited for those habitats begin to better compete and potentially out-compete riverine species.

There is really nowhere better to see an example of this scenario at play than right in our own back yard.  The Fox River south of the Chain O’ Lakes demonstrates many of these very ecological indicators.  While the Fox Waterway Agency (FWA) maintains the Fox River from the Wisconsin border to the Algonquin Dam, other groups have been working hard to study the group while others work as stewards of the river.  One such group, the Fox River Study Group, has worked hard to study the chemistry of the river within Illinois starting below the Chain O’ Lakes down to the Yorkville area.  They have made these very same observations through their studies.  Although these observations have been made, the traction to remove even low-head dams on the Fox River in Illinois has been slow, for many of the same reasons provided earlier in this post.

On the reverse side of the coin is the Des Plaines River which has seen some success in dam removals throughout the past 10 years.  Reports appear to have been good at least from a fishing standpoint.  We have not heard much on the negativity side of things, outside of some navigability with stream speeds and depth in spots.  If that is the worst thing to come from the dam removal process, then it looks like it is well worth it.

Along with the ecological changes that are briefly discussed above, there is a chemical alteration that is tied to changes that take place immediately upstream and downstream of the formal dam structure.  Streams have a natural appetite for sediments; however the downstream fate of the sediment is much different in a stream system that has incurred the installation of structures intended to slow, divert, or impound water.  These structures can serve a source of ultimate deposition and initial source of stream bed scour.  While the day to day function of dams seems harmless enough, the the power of falling water cannot be overstated.  This very premise is relied upon as a viable source of energy to this day.  Now the remaining several thousand dams across the country may have not been instituted for the purpose of hydroelectric generation, but many still have the capability to generate enormous amounts of energy which is released as scour upon the downstream stream bed.  The amount released is dependent upon the elevation of the dam crest and the amount of flow going over the top which can be a function of rain or a scheduled man-made release from upstream or a combination of both.

Immediately upstream of the dam the exact opposite function is occurring.  Water tends to stagnate, leaving a sediment deposition zone.  These zones have limited space of course and over time a sort of baseflow equilibrium is reached with the stream.  Equilibrium can be disrupted at times of high flow as well.  This is caused by the upwelling of materials immediately upstream as water must contract to release over the spillway.  This will create space upstream of the dam where sediment can once again deposit and the cycle repeats itself.

Keep in mind that within a stream, river or any other body of moving water, just like a lake there is ongoing chemical changes taking place constantly.  This does not end at the sediment surface.  Underneath the sediment-water interface there is all kinds of biological and chemical activity.  We often see the results of this activity in both lakes and streams when we see gas released as bubbles to the surface.  Depending on storm surge or seasonal flood flow(s), these constituents can be dislodged en masse, creating pockets of biological oxygen demand (BOD) downstream or make noticeable  water chemistry change detrimental to the existing fish or invertebrate communities.

The above information is of course simplified to make this blog readable.  American Rivers has some great online documentation which discusses these points and further relays the benefits of restoring a riverine community.  On a local basis both the FRSG (link above) and the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup (DRSCW) have done independent work on their respective waters.  These workgroups appear to be a preferred model in which Illinois EPA (IEPA) hopes to further address point source pollution.

Based on the materials provided in the IllinoisLakes Blog Part I & II postings, it would appear that there is ample material to support the removal of dams.  The question may further be why is it so hard to remove them?  The process is quite onerous, at least in Illinois it can be.  As of right now the funding to inspect, maintain, and possibly remove a dam all falls on the owner of that dam.  Creative owners may be able to partner on a grant to remove as part of a restoration package, but it does not alleviate them from the formal process of removal initiated by the State of Illinois.  These can include studies of impact which typically cannot be recovered through the typical grant process.  Other states do have revenue sources in place with the sole purpose of assisting in the removal and modification of dams.

This sums up the IllinoisLakes Blog Part 2 take on dams.  We hope you found it informational and enjoyable.  Remember the IllinoisLakes Blog is sponsored by the Illinois Lakes Management Association (ILMA).  If you are interested in lakes like we are please visit our webpage for more information or visit us on Facebook or any one of our numerous public POD sessions.

~p0sted by Admin

 

Our love affair with Water

Those of us from the upper midwest tend to have a love affair with water.  Some of us grew up around water, some of us live on water, some are avid fishermen, but there is a certain calmness and serenity that comes with water, and the lake environment brings this out more than most.  Even most recreational users enjoy the setting for more than just running up and down the shoreline full throttle.

The majority of lakes in the State of Illinois are the responsibility of the lake property owners as few are public or quasi public.  Because of this the management of these lakes is also privatized and the decisions on how to best “use” the lake is often a decision made by local property owners with varying agendas.  How do we best protect and manage our waters in the State of Illinois?  Opinions certainly vary.  Is it best to protect and manage our lake for fishing?  Is it best to manage for recreational navigability?  Is there a balance that can be obtained?  The answers to these questions are not black and white as our lakes are all a bit different.  No two lakes are identical and therefore the blueprint for maintaining our waters would be somewhat varied for each.

On back to the original theme of this post, how does our need to be close to the water directly impact the source?  What compromises are people willing to make in their daily lives to be a better lakeside property owner?  To better protect the adjacent waters or downstream water resources?  Dig into this new blog and our hope is that with time the content contained within will become a useful tool for private citizens as well as water resources professionals.  We will update content when we can and do our best to keep followers updated with pertinent information.  Subscribe or check back often to share your love affair with water together with us!

-p0sted by Admin

Welcome to Illinois Lakes Blog!

This is the official launch of the Illinois Lakes Blog.  The goal of this blog will be to fill in the gaps for communication with interested lake property owners, lakeside property businesses, watershed partners, recreational enthusiasts, water resources professionals, and other lake and water resources stakeholders.  This blog is hosted by a number of dedicated individuals who volunteer their time to provide a platform for discussion in a way that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets cannot.  This Blog is intended to provide fruitful conversation and more in-depth information between its users.

-p0sted by Admin