Residents Demand Changes to Prevent Chain O’Lakes Flooding

September 26, 2018

Residents are pushing for Illinois officials to change how they run a dam to prevent flooding in several lakes that flow into the Fox River in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Property owners are petitioning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to intervene in the management of the Stratton Lock and Dam on the Fox River downstream in McHenry Township, the Chicago Tribune reported . But an official with the federal agency said residents need to petition local leaders before going to the federal level.

Flooding is the natural result of a system that isn’t equipped to hold all of the water it gets, state officials said. The state has no plans to expand the dam’s capacity.

State officials warn that opening the dam and letting more water out of the Chain O’Lakes could worsen flooding.

But residents along the group of lakes that straddles Lake and McHenry counties have suggested opening the dam gates to let water out sooner rather than waiting for the rain to fall. The alternative plan is a major departure from how the Illinois Department of Natural Resources operates the dam.

The agency measures water flowing into the system from the Fox River in Wisconsin and uses computer models to predict how much levels will rise after a storm. The department doesn’t use forecasts that predict how much rain the system will get.

“This is an operational error,” Fox Lake resident Andrew Hank said. “They’re never moving enough water out in a timely fashion.”

Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Edward Cross said there isn’t “enough storage in the Chain O’Lakes, nor capacity in the Fox River, to eliminate flooding.”

“Unless flood-prone buildings along the lakes and river are removed to create more storage in the Chain O’Lakes or conveyance on the Fox River, changes to the operation guide are moot,” Cross said.

Cross said that if the gates were opened based on rainfall predictions, flooding along the Fox River would occur.

“If the rain does not materialize, the flooding would be unnecessary,” he said.

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