Fox Chain O’ Lakes: Offseason Perspective – Part II

Welcome back for Part II of the Fox Chain O’Lakes, an Offseason Perspective.  Northeastern Illinois’s premiere water resource and also one of the most impacted.  We continue to discuss key points surrounding the dynamic conditions of the lake, management prospectus and key pollutants.

Turning our attention now to the waterway, indifferent of stakeholder and agency politics, how does one begin to tackle the problems of the system?  You have watershed problems tied to enormous annual loading of sediments.  There is an ecologically challenged wildlife and fishery that reflects this.  Property-side landowners that do little to no actual shoreline protection or on-lot treatments that are beneficial to the waterway, and what is likely an overused, potentially abused recreational aspect that is also the largest revenue base for the waterway.  What do you do when the largest base revenue source is also one of the largest individual source impacts?  You begin to see how things become heated and political in a short amount of time.  Hundreds to thousands of different voices with different agendas.

But in all reality are our agendas all that different when you distill them back to their source?  Excluding any cases of individuals (or industry) who seem indifferent to the future condition of the Chain O’Lakes, most everyone should understand that there needs to be a realistic, long-term management plan in place to address these issues and placate all users and stakeholders.  The disagreement almost always seems to stem from how to implement such a plan and more specifically in what order to implement the actions necessary to complete the individual steps.

As mentioned in Part I, current management of the Chain O’Lakes consists of treatment techniques focused on the result, not the actual cause which is an expensive way to tread water.  Documented elsewhere, the overall largest load is delivered from the Fox River north of the border, however the largest average annual pulse of sediment is being delivered from in-state.  This would also include a much larger per acre volume of water based on the proximity of impervious surfaces to the Chain O’Lakes.

How do you keep sediment from making its way into the waterway?  Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “1 ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and it could not be more true in the land use paradigm.  While the FWA has the charge of maintaining the waterway, it only has control of the end point of the sediment and currently lacks the mechanism to address watershed based control.  If only there was a way?  Ah but there is.  We refer to these things as partnerships.

Somewhere along the line the concept of partnering was never realized or never considered, but ultimately there are no functional partnerships that are resulting in worthwhile land management objectives.  Perhaps they once did exist, but never materialized.  Hindsight being what it is the only logical, somewhat economically conscious method of reaching equilibrium with the landscape will be through better watershed practices and structured partnerships.  What kind of partnerships?  Where is the economical gain?  Who controls land management use?

Part III of the offseason perspective coming soon.

~posted by LL&S


Illinois Lakes Management Association (ILMA) to Partner with IllinoisLakes Blog

In a unanimous vote during last night’s Board of Director’s meeting, ILMA has accepted a proposal to partner with IllinoisLakes Blog.  ILMA is Illinois’ premiere lakes association and has been around for over 35 years providing education and training for interested lake property owners, agency partners, consultants, educators, and students.  The partnership is ideal for both parties as it provides access to a multitude of users/readers on behalf of the IllinoisLakes Blog (IBlog) and should provide ILMA a simplified means of depositing dedicated information, articles, and other resources other than the newsletter format used for so many years.

The timing of the announcement comes roughly four months before ILMA’s big spring conference March 30th-April 1st 2017, located in Crystal Lake.  ILMA is anticipating record numbers for this conference and has planned for an exciting conference complete with a wide variety of speaker sessions and hand’s on workshops.  More on the conference to come in future posts.

IBlog also intends to make announcements regarding the partnership through other connected lakes and watershed user groups social media outlets over the next several days.  Subscribe to our feed to stay informed of other interesting developments over the winter and thank you for reading our Blog!  Come back soon.

Fox Chain O’ Lakes: An off-season for Perspective – Part I

With another year in the books, it’s time to look at our area’s premiere water resources destination, the Fox River Chain O’Lakes.  In this Part I of a multi-part perspective on the Chain O’Lakes, we will explore the workings of the waterway from several directions.  After a not-so friendly article was written last week, there have been murmurs from the general public regarding complacency of the Fox Waterway Agency (FWA) over the years.  Now while some of this reaction may be warranted, it should be better focused on its origin.  Management housecleaning was performed fall 2015 and the current management while working out the kinks has made many positive strides that should be reflected upon.  For example, the FWA has gotten actively involved in watershed planning and water quality initiatives.  Something that would never have been on the table 5 years ago.  I know because I openly approached the Agency about it in 2011.

All that aside, we should focus back on the waterbody itself.  The history of the FWA is a potential column in itself.  The “Fox Chain” as we refer to it in this Blog is under a constant bombardment of watershed constituents and is essentially a regional sediment trap.  The FWA’s primary objective year in and year out is to empty the trap or keep it from filling up.  The truth of the matter is that the task is somewhat of a fool’s errand because you are treating the result and not the cause.  This is what watershed planning is about, to identify causes and turn the attention to where is counts.

It would be somewhat exhaustive to attempt an effort to list all the possible sources of pollutant loading into the Fox Chain, and to be truthful it is just as easy to cite the work of other work groups such as the Fox River Study Group, Fox River Ecosystem Partnership (FREP), and Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), just to name a few.  It may be just as easy to look at how the watershed and lake are used and how these activities compound the situation.  What seems like everyday observances can help lead to changed behavioral differences of stakeholders that have a direct, positive impact on our waterways.  To think that the Fox Chain has been in its current state for such a considerable amount of time and its current condition is all that most stakeholders know.

The unique circumstances surrounding the Fox Chain is simply that such a large amount of the constituency does not live on the lake(s), nor even reside in the surrounding communities or tributary watershed.  This grouping of stakeholders leads to a likely division in the care level needed to appease the end user.  All that being said, the body of water is public and the user base diverse.  Additional users and stakeholders are beginning to voice opinion on use and conditions.  Social media has allowed for additional avenues of communication which has made it easier for stakeholders to voice their ideas & concerns, many of which may be way off base, but just as many that have some degree of merit.

Come back soon for Part II.

A Perspective on Consultants

Using a consultant costs money.  Nobody wants to spend money.  This is probably the understatement of the year.  Spoiler Alert: this post is written and produced by a consultant.  That being said, in the constant hustle of this line of work, I routinely run into individuals who have experienced the good and the bad, with seemingly more of the bad.  Permitting of natural resources related projects can be problematic for the uninitiated.  This includes private citizens and consultants alike.

One thing we have no shortage of in northern IL is engineers.  I work for an engineering consulting firm.  The difference is that the multitude of engineers I work with understand what their capability is and we respectfully observe each others boundaries.  That is not always the case.  Trespassing disciplines also gets some non-engineers into trouble when they underestimate the type of design-build work they get into and the complexity of some hydraulic and soil erosion & sediment control (SESC) situations.  I am currently in a project trying to bail out a design-build firm that oversold their capability and is caught in a permitting loop.

Track records are extremely important.  Getting an understanding of the area of expertise that different consultants can bring to the table is important.  Often we get caught up with a firm because they “had the original idea” or “they seemed cost effective”, or “had a great presentation at a conference”.  The idea of “value design/engineering” is not a dead concept.  Knowing the agencies, municipalities, and players at the table is an efficient first step in getting a project done.  Having the proper consultant working with you ensures better delivery of the concept, more streamlined permitting, and better communication to all parties involved.

From a historical perspective, streams, lakes, and other natural areas were managed by scientists or people achieving education of a particular natural resources based background.  Over time, and especially within the urban and suburban northeastern Illinois the advance of urban sprawl has led to many natural places being commingled with our gray infrastructure network (roads, utilities, and homes).  This new connectivity leads to direct and indirect impacts to these waterways which left unattended permanently alters the way in which these systems function and ultimately respond to their surrounding environment.  Gray infrastructure is typically designed, maintained, and managed by engineers.  When properly managed the two professions can work in harmony.  When isolated they tend to serve individual purposes which may or may not be in unison with their surrounding environments.

The goal of this post is to illustrate that as consultants we are not all necessarily created equal and we all have our place in the world.  It is our job to properly explain the circumstances of the project so it is clearly understood what is all involved and the amount of work that goes into it.  Many times in a client’s effort save money or provide assistance they actually make things harder to either complete on time or with the allotted budget, specifically when it comes to agency interaction and permitting procedures.

Lastly, the year is no longer 1965 so most any project takes time to go from concept, to through design & permitting, to construction.  Unless you have a small project (< $5,000) in total value with almost no permitting, you should anticipate a minimum 6 month window to over a year to completed the process.  Trying to take shortcuts often leads to project elongation, disgruntled permitting agencies, and cost consequences.  If you cannot find it within yourself to trust that your consultant’s judgement will result in the shortest timeline to a better project, you should not have hired that firm in the first place.

-Posted by LL&S


The Cost of Private Lakes

The idea sounds great in concept.  Your own slice of paradise, roped off from the rest of the public, nobody to befoul your waters other than you and your extremely responsible neighbors and lakeshore property owner brethren.  Yet as noted in discussion and presentation with Lake County Health Department staff, almost every lake in Lake County, IL has at least one documented impairment (see LCHD presentation, Media Center).  More than half have multiple.  How has this happened you say?  How do I fix that problem?  Is this a problem?  So many directions this topic can go, but let’s explore some simple ideas below:

Illinois is not alone in this endeavor and other states with similar statutes face similar issues, but that is not the focus of this discussion; rather do the pros of private ownership outweigh the cons of privatized lake management.  Would you rather have a better means of obtaining public dollars to maintain your year round view or guaranteed peace and quiet at the cost of a degraded waterway?  In a state where natural resources are as underfunded as any state initiative and the largest water resources based management agency, the Fox Waterway Agency (FWA) has gone unfunded for over a year, the trickle down of funds to other users is nearly non-existent.

So what is the true cost to maintain a waterbody or waterway?  How much deferred maintenance have we allowed to take place on our shorelines and how many problems slowly rear their head?  It is one thing to ignore the symptoms that reside within the lake, but by being ignorant to the abuses of the watershed we are essentially passing the problem to the next generation.  Right now it is very difficult to fund projects on private waters unless the dollars are backed by a private interest organization and the reasoning is essentially justified.  The money used to buoy many of the grants available for waterway restoration, protection, enhancement, and stabilization are considered public funds which are therefore slated most likely for public projects.  Private lakes are not public projects.

Still the bulk of our water resources surface waters are under private ownership which either do not know (and/or) realize the status of the water resource along adjacent properties.  Studies performed in Minnesota found that when all other factors are equal, properties on lakes with clearer water commanded significantly higher property prices (  So the investment is not only in a clearer, more aesthetically pleasing waterway, but a higher property value.  Living along the waters edge requires greater responsibility than living in just any subdivision in the western burbs.  The proximity of living near the water requires additional care of stormwater from your own property and your neighbors property as well as water coming in from upstream sources.  In-lake dynamics will also play a role.  Whatever can get into the water, ultimately interacts physically and eventually chemically.

So many problems associated with water quality are visibly hard to identify and to an untrained eye may be near to invisible.  Dissolved constituents are mostly clear within the water column.  Bringing these concerns to the attention of interested parties has been difficult as well.  Since the problem is somewhat invisible or often not considered serious, when a property owner or group sees a price tag they become inclined to just walk away, whereas a state of government partner is required by law to protect the interests of the user base.

In the end, like in most cases a lot of this comes down to a financial situation involving agencies with prioritized goals and binding Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations that must be achieved.  In one hand the water resources are public domain that have limited access due to private property ownership.  The private ownership often make for a difficult trade off to access a resource that is not enjoyed by the entire population.  Therefore it is easy for agencies to continue to defer the maintenance and care of these areas to those private landowners who in many cases continue to be negligent in the care or prefer to assume that it’s not a big enough problem  to require care.

In the end the management fees that most lake property owners assess are focused on in-lake treatments that do little to impact the bigger picture which is coming off the landscape.  Slowly some municipal entities have been implementing a stormwater fee aimed at addressing these items but the money in most cases is focused on improving drainage and reducing flooding which in the end is not focused on water quality impacts.  Once this fee is universally adjusted to rate property owners based on their individual lot impact (lot rating), there will be little benefit to downstream water resources improvement.  Once the general public has a better awareness of they impact of their carbon footprint (in this case watershed impact footprint) we can begin to become more conscientious in our land impacts.

p0sted by Admin

The Watershed Concept

If you have been around lakes long enough or have participated in more recent lake planning initiatives, the idea of watershed planning has probably been discussed to some degree if not in detail.  To others it may not yet have been fully investigated as to how the concept interrelates with lakes and other surface waters.  The idea is quite simple: all water drains to a specific endpoint or location and the area that drains to that one common endpoint is described as the watershed to that specific endpoint.  There are certainly many flat areas of the earth’s surface, but gravity tends to have its way with water, forcing it to move to the lowest location it can find.

Along with this movement to an endpoint, the water picks up material which travels with it to the endpoint.  When the endpoint is a lake or significant waterbody the sum of all the material (other than water) is often referred to as a “load”.  The load typically consists of unnecessary materials which do not provide any benefit.  With the watershed concept we can then visualize and to some extents mathematically compute a numerical sum of material constituents to that endpoint.  In the context of watershed management and lakes, the endpoint is the lake.  The concept can be further extrapolated to determine how much material is entering the lake other than water.  The video below helps explain:

More simply stated:  what is in the watershed eventually winds up in our lakes.

Why is this important you may ask?  It is important because we typically treat what is in our lakes not what is coming in.  This can seem inconsequential if the lake is relatively clean with few management concerns, but since we have an affinity with water it is quite natural for us to build our homes and oftentimes our communities around lakes or other bodies of water.  Make no mistake about it, much of the “unnecessary” constituents, aka pollutants making their way into the water (or lake) are mankind’s doing.  At the end of the day these materials seen and often unseen may end up in our lakes and streams.

Therefore the principal to cleaning up water bodies is conducive to proper management of the watershed that delivers the water.  Easier to do?  Absolutely not, but in the long run treating a symptom without actually treating the source of that symptom is at best a stalemate; whereas correction of the source can have an impact not only at the endpoint, but at all the points from the endpoint back to the source.

In the long run, we have chosen to make many of our lakes private and as a result the water held within is also privatized.  Other than Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates general watershed residents may never truly realize the impact to downstream residents unless the condition is highlighted.  Ultimately if the upstream land user doesn’t have a “stake” in the downstream water resource it becomes even harder to initiate proactive watershed or lake management goals.

Future articles highlighting the “stakeholder” concept and challenges of lake and stream privatization will be discussed in future blog articles.  Thanks for reading.

-p0sted by Admin

Impairments and Illinois Lakes

Here in Illinois we are not always blessed with much of the same resources as other states.  Locating a defined  directory of the condition of Illinois Lakes for example can be difficult.  Unless you can navigate EPA’s cumbersome website, and then decode the method of which the data is cataloged, coming up with lake management strategies based on EPA recommendations can be tedious work.

The reason it can be so tedious is simply the way it is recorded.  Quite simply the EPA documents water bodies as impaired or “not-impaired”.  There is a genuine possibility that if the water is primarily located in a developed watershed the condition of the water body will be impaired.  This is simply just the result of years of watershed abuse.  All things aside, understanding impairment and the many things that go with it can be a little confusing, so we provided an excellent video in the Media Center provided by Lake County Health Department – Lakes Management Unit Director Mike Adam.  The presentation was developed for the Greater Pistakee Lake Watershed Partnership (GPLWP) meeting at Volo Bog (6/20/16), but a great majority of the material applies to impairment concepts in general.  We would like to thank Mike and the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) for their ongoing participation and support in these initiatives.

-p0sted by Admin




What is Lake(s) Management?

The question seems simple enough, but the answer is almost always different depending on who you ask.  It certainly takes on a different meaning if you are a consultant vs someone sitting on a lake association board.  This creates somewhat of a dividing line between those who are formally educated and/or experienced in the application and management of lakes, streams or surface water bodies from those who are stakeholders on some various level just enjoying the views.  Not only do views change among individuals, but textbooks and guidelines show differing opinions on management strategies.  Additionally management style may also be dictated by available funds.

Furthermore it could be determined that some lakes require more hands-on management than others.  In one case an oligotrophic lake in northern Wisconsin, with limited nutrient input from the watershed can seem self sustaining versus and urban impoundment in suburban Illinois which needs constant restocking and algal control.  So maybe the question isn’t as easy to answer as initially thought.  What appears certain within the realm of lake management; however is that it involves more than just the lake and whats happening from shoreline to shoreline.

In an ideal world all bodies of water (lakes, river, creeks) work the same, but that is most certainly not true.  If a human body is the reflection of what we put into it and we can agree that (for the most part) lakes function in much the same way, why do we continue to dump the majority of our money into treating the lake rather than the input?  Is it a sense of instant returns?  Yet these are the requests we see every day…a need to treat “weeds”, the desire to dredge, more shoreline frontage. Few of which constitute any direction improvement on water quality.  Isn’t that what we are really after?

At the end of the day there is really no blueprint to correct lake management.  All this article suggests is a look beyond the shoreline and for better ways to spend your time and money than spraying algae beds.  Find out what watershed your lake is in.  Be conscious of how the water gets in and where it has been.  Try to learn about the processes that lead to in-lake changes.  Get to know your neighbors and neighboring lakes.  Strategize with others to make a plan.  After all lake management should be fun and not frustrating…

-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