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Dams By Don Mueggenborg

Every year many people die because of low head dams. Above the dam, boaters may get too close to the dam and go over. Below the dam, fishermen wander too close to the dam and are sucked into the hydraulic. Many of us have dam stories – and we have all damned the dams at one time or another.

The dams are coming out or possibly being converted to a whitewater chute. The reason for the dams no longer exists – they have become obsolete. Removing them is healthier for the river and removes a potential danger spot (in many cases, the dams are in need of extensive repair.)

Dams had their uses when they were built. They were used to form a pool for a Mill Race. They were used to provide a ford across the river (e.g., Dam # 1 and Dam # 2 on the Des Plaines). They were used for recreation (e.g., swimming, canoeing, boating); in fact, you can still see the bolts that anchored a diving board above Dam # 2 on the Des Plaines. Dams were used for flood control. They were used for sanitation – sewage went directly into the river, and in low water, it was exposed to the air and smelled; dams kept the water level up and the stench down. Ryerson Dam was built so Ryerson’s horses could cross the river below the dam.

 Dam Removal:   dam1 before removaldam 1 removal

A considerable amount of dam removal has already, or will be occurring, on the Des Plaines River. Work is under way to remove Hollister Dam and Half-Day Dam. If not already completed, the dam in Des Plaines and Dam #4 on the Des Plaines River are scheduled for removal. Already removed on the Des Plaines River are a small dam in Lockport, Riverside Dam, Ryerson Dam, Dam # 1, and Dam # 2. The Des Plaines River should be dam-free by the end of the summer of 2015.

Other dam removal projects include the Carpentersville Dam on the Fox River – this is the latest dam removal announcement. The dam at north Batavia will be removed by nature, if it is not removed by man first (i.e., the dam south of Batavia on the Fox River). In addition, the dam has been removed from the West Branch of the DuPage River in Warrenville.

Dam Conversion to Whitewater

The dam in Yorkville has become a whitewater play park with an annual slalom race, and plans are being considered to build whitewater courses for several other dams. St Charles is considering a grand plan with several grades of whitewater chutes. There has been talk of a whitewater chute in Aurora (there is an attempt in place that was built several years ago, but it never was really functional). Rockford is also considering a whitewater chute on the Rock River (at present, it would require a long portage to get around the dam). Finally, Algonquin is also considering a whitewater conversion on the Fox River.

Good news.   Removing dams is safer – cutting the possibility of drowning and eliminating portages.   It is better environmentally for fish and for the flow of the rivers. Although the water level above the dam will drop, the water level below the dam rises.

The Vic Hopp Race starts at Dam # 1 on the Des Plaines River – go upstream and return. This year with the dam removed and low water level, we had one of the most interesting starts to a race that I have ever encountered. We were hitting bottom with our paddles, but the waves from all the boats tossed us this way and that. We would get a wave and shoot out ahead of a nearby boat only to be stuck behind another wave and have them pass. This was for the first several minutes of the race. Wish I could have said it pushed us to the front of the pack, but alas, that did not happened.

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