The Forest Preserve District of Will County is moving forward with a plan to remove the Hammel Woods Dam along the DuPage River in Shorewood.
The district’s operations committee voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Lower DuPage River Watershed Coalition to remove the dam and approve a contract worth $104,100 with WBK Engineering for the removal.
While the votes came days after the bodies of a couple were recovered near the dam, discussions and plans for its removal began years ago.
Ralph Schultz, the chief operating officer of the Will County Forest Preserve District, said talks about removing the dam stemmed from efforts to improve the ecological health of the river, which extends from Channahon north into DuPage County. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency previously identified a variety of ecological problems with the river and put regulations on the amount of certain chemicals in the water, such as chlorine and dissolved oxygen.
Schultz said the dam was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era public works program. It was one of a number of improvements made to Hammel Woods during that time.
However, Schultz said the river and the area around it looked very different back then, as there wasn’t as much water flowing through. Since major development has happened along the river with more wastewater treatment facilities in the area, the quality of the body of water has changed.
Schultz said the primary concern, leading to the eventual removal of the dam, is ecological health. Through studies, the LDRWC was able to confirm the dam was preventing certain types of fish from migrating to different parts of the river. So those fishing in the northern part of the river might have trouble even catching fish. Schultz said biodiversity is key to maintaining a healthy river and would have benefits to the ecosystem.
“A healthy river is a very diverse river,” he said.
There are also some recreational benefits considered in removing the dam. Schultz said kayak and canoe enthusiasts will be able to flow freely through the river. The forest preserve would replace the dam with boulders to create a white water arrangement for those who like to hear the sound of rushing water.
Schultz said he expects the full Will County Board to approve the agreement and contract at its meeting later this month.
He said the permitting and engineering process for the removal will take about nine to 12 months, and the removal of the dam should be completed as early as 2020.