Identifying Worthwhile Stewardship Ventures

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to identify worthwhile stewardship ventures and opportunities is to evaluate the concept of stewardship at its roots.  The idea of stewardship stems from an ethic that centers around the responsible planning and management of resources, in this case environmental resources.  Lakes of course are just one component of our natural environment but cannot be isolated in their care.  Looking more specifically at environmental stewardship, Wikipedia defines it with terms such as conservation and sustainability.  Further referencing the great Aldo Leopold and the land ethic concept.  For those of you who have never read the Sand County Almanac, what I consider and environmentalists staple, I highly recommend it.  If it does not stir some emotion of an intertwined environmental bioverse nothing will.

Back to the to point behind this blog post.  We all have places to go, people to see, politics to complain about.  Of all the ventures we may choose to support on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, how well do we connect with our water resources or environmental stewardship of lake, streams and watersheds?  It’s a difficult question to answer for some.  As a consultant I attend a number or watershed and lake meetings, sit on numerous boards, committees or the like.  You begin to see a lot of the same faces.  The ones you see time and again work well with each other, smile and greet each other, and have bought into the process of these grass roots programs a long time ago, nor

The new faces (or the one you may not recognize) are often their to complain about something not being done, are in unfamiliar territory, or are ignorant to any sort of working processes.  If the ‘workgroup’ is lucky, with the right words there may be a convert inside this individual.

So while stewardship efforts may have a skeletal framework with agency framing, the backbone and muscle of the groups reside in the individuals who comprise them.  These grass roots effort groups provide a number of stewardship efforts and opportunities for anyone who is willing to sit down and listen.  So since you are reading this blog, we assume you are interested in one of a few things:

  1. Your local lake.  Either its long term care or its immediate needs.  You lack a local lake group or are unsure of the capability of your local group to function properly.
  2. Your local water body.  This may take the form or a common water that you periodically frequent or maybe the creek your kids play in nearby.  You have seen something that bothers your and want to know where to go with questions.
  3. HOA commitments.  HOA boards are often ill prepared for dealing with open space issues and need some sort of homing beacon.
  4. Park districts, NFP patrons, or other open space agencies.  Open to new ideas, networking ideas.

At this point we do know from independent surveys that people do believe that the internet is the is the best resource for information which is not to say people are misinformed or under informed, but let’s just say you get back what you put into it.  This is likely to be a future blog piece. 

In northeastern Illinois where stewardship groups are somewhat dense, the structure consists of one or more of the following which can often overlap with the geographic interests:

  1. Watershed Groups:  If you need to find the watershed that your local waterbody of interest resides in, the easiest resource is the EPA Surf your watershed webpage.  It can be down for maintenance routinely, so check back if you cannot find it.  Additionally we are trying to create a repository here as well.  If you do not know what a watershed is, search this blog and there are descriptive blog posts as well.  The internet is also a somewhat viable source.  Just as always with the internet.  All information should be check against more than one source.
  2. Lake or waterbody group: Some lakes, creeks, and streams have their own advocacy groups.  If you are having trouble finding one specifically.  Please contact ILMA and we’ll do our best to help you out.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start.  For example in Lake Zurich, IL, there is the local lake group which is responsible for the management of the lake itself.  The local sustainability group is known as the Ancient Oaks Foundation.
  3. Regional advocacy focus groups.  Examples of these could be the Conservation Foundation, Openlands, Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT), Chicago Wilderness are only a few examples.  Each of these groups may represent a slightly different geographic range or focus, but each have worthwhile efforts.

The best fit may be more than one group depending on your interest level.  Some have found it good to hear a different voice from time to time.  Visiting a alternative group or neighboring group can also be enlightening.  Prior to forming the 9 Lakes Watershed Group, several of the lakes belonged to the 4 Lakes Initiative. Some of the best interaction the group felt was the interaction with the other lake groups and the different approaches they each took to solve intermediate lake problems.

Keep the following things in mind.  Lake groups tend to focus on in-lake problems.  Watershed groups look from the top down to solve water quality problems.  Lake groups can sometimes become lake-centric meaning they don’t realize that the problems they are treating can stem from the watershed.  Throwing money at a in-lake result that begins at the watershed level can be like throwing away money.

Regional groups while looking at a more watershed level approach also tend to integrate policy issues which is important when looking at institutional change that can have a ripple down effect.  These policy practices can provide changes which when integrated with land use policy.  Once in place these policies can provide land development and local government officials the needed tools to enact change at a watershed scale.  Watershed level changes impact the quality of our surface waters.  Therefore, you can see how these levels interact.

There is a lot of knowledge to be gained by interacting at any and all levels.  Of course the interaction also requires time.  Above all is the Illinois Lakes Management Association (ILMA) which works to network our membership with all these groups at our annual conference, POD sessions, and web pages (this blog, our facebook page, and our general internet page).

You may find a lot of familiar faces operating at several different levels.  This is not by accident, but often by design.  This includes ILMA and its partner groups.  We encourage interaction at as many of these levels as possible, including attending available conferences or workshops these groups may have to offer.  These may also offer exposure to vendors and additional expertise.

Look no further than the upcoming ILMA Annual Conference (March 22-24), the Fox River Summit in Burlington, WI (March 23rd) for some of these opportunities.

~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