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A watershed idea

Jelkes Creek along Boncosky Road Sleepy Hollow. Recommendations improve water quality Fox River-Jelkes Creek Watershed areby reducing erosipollutiare works.

Jelkes Creek along Boncosky Road in Sleepy Hollow. Recommendations to improve water quality in the Fox River-Jelkes Creek Watershed area by reducing erosion and pollution are in the works. January 29, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:01AM

Conventional sewage treatment plants replaced by a new system that moves all the treated water into the air instead of the Fox River?

Straight creeks recarved to meander through fields of native plants that would filter out pollutants and silt?

Homeowners and farmers taught how to fertilize lawns and crops, and to kill their pests, without letting pollutants leach into creeks and rivers?

Those are the dreams of a group of several dozen ecology-minded people — ranging from local government officials and resident-volunteers to hired experts — who began meeting under the auspices of the Kane-DuPage Soil and Water Conservation District almost three years ago. After months of meetings and hearings, they obtained a $90,000 federal grant via the Illinois EPA that they used to hire a technical writing firm named Geosyntec Consultants to write the final report.

The result, known as the Jelkes Creek-Fox River Watershed Action Plan, recently was reviewed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and is ready to be put into action.

Big area

The plan recommends ways to clean up the water in the Fox River between Route 62 in Algonquin and Route 20 in Elgin, as well as the water in Jelkes and other creeks draining into the river in the areas between Elgin’s north border and Route 62.

Jelkes, the largest of those creeks, runs through Sleepy Hollow’s west side, crosses Sleepy Hollow Road south of Route 72, runs past the Sleepy Hollow Village Hall, then passes through Frontenac subdivision and Lake Beatrice before crossing Route 31 and flowing into the Fox River.

In Elgin, the plan looks at the Fox River itself but does not include Tyler Creek, Poplar Creek or the land areas whose water drains into those creeks. Elizabeth Hagen-Moeller, the administrative and education coordinator for the conservation district, explained that the Tyler Creek and Poplar Creek watersheds already had their own coalitions who have drawn up similar action plans, “and the Tyler Creek coalition is quite active.”

North of Elgin, the watershed examined by the new plan widens considerably, extending as far west as Randall Road and as far east as Route 25 through the Dundees, Sleepy Hollow, Carpentersville and Algonquin. It includes a total of 12.4 miles of Fox River, 62 miles of creeks and all the land whose rainfall drains into those.

The volunteer group, which now calls itself the Jelkes Creek-Fox River Watershed Coalition, will continue to meet periodically as members try to turn the plan’s ideas into reality. Their next meeting is at 5 p.m. March 5 at the Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve, at 16N690 Sleepy Hollow Road in rural West Dundee.

Meanwhile, members will begin visiting village board meetings to brief local officials on what the plan includes and what the villages’ and city’s role might be in it.

Hagen-Moeller said the plan has no force of law in itself. But the coalition will try to turn its ideas into reality in two ways: by convincing villages and cities to adopt the plan, and by teaching homeowners and farmers how to avoid polluting the water through what professionals call “non-point-source” pollution.

Hagen-Moeller said leadership of the coalition has been assumed by volunteers David Poweleit of Carpentersville and Mike Ander of Sleepy Hollow.

“It is well understood that without water there is no life,” Poweleit said. “But many do not realize that if it rains on you, you are in a watershed. Thus, we all play a role in affecting our very livelihood.”

Concrete ideas

The plan suggests that 18 specific projects be done within the next five years.

In one of the most ambitious, the group urges that East Dundee, Algonquin, Carpentersville or the Fox River Water Reclamation District study the possibility of converting one of the five sewage treatment plants along the Fox to a new “wastewater reclamation and reuse system,” or WRRS.

Conventional treatment plants remove most organic material from sewage and send it in the form of “sludge” to be either buried in a landfill or spread as fertilizer on farmland. After about two days of treatment, the cleaned water is discharged into the Fox River.

In a WRRS, the organic material in sewage is decomposed over several weeks, and all the resulting water is spread where it will be picked up by the roots of growing plants at places such as forest preserves and parks. Almost all the water, WRRS enthusiasts say, then would be turned into water vapor in the air, either through transpiration within plant leaves or by simple evaporation. No water would return to the Fox River or creeks.

During winter, when no plants are growing, water from a WRRS plant would have to be stored in giant ponds or tanks until the growing season resumes.

In another big project, the plan urges that one of the three Fox River dams in the watershed — Algonquin’s, Carpentersville’s or the one at Kimball Street in Elgin — be studied for possible changes to make it more environmentally compatible.

The cheapest of the proposed projects, with an estimated price tag of $10,000 to $18,000, is to install a rain garden outside the Dundee Township Visitors Center in downtown East Dundee.

The most expensive, at $550,000 or so, would be to rework the headwaters of Carpenter Creek east of Sedgwick Street on Carpentersville’s east side to reduce erosion and silt flow.

Other proposed projects include:

Improvements to Lake Beatrice, a pond that Jelkes Creek flows through at the southwest corner of Route 31 and Boncosky Road on the south edge of Sleepy Hollow.

Turning a straight unnamed creek that parallels the south side of Boncosky Road into a gently meandering stream. Planners say that would help filter out silt and pollution now carried by that creek, some of it from the pavement on nearby Interstate 90.

Creating a wetland in the headwaters of McIntosh Creek, between Besinger Drive and Ravine Road along the Carpentersville-East Dundee border. The plan says this would help filter out pollution entering the creek from, among other places, the Meadowdale Shopping Center parking lot.

A bioretention project in Lions Park in East Dundee.

Repairing Shaw Creek, which is badly eroding its banks between Sleepy Hollow Road and Raceway Woods.

“Throughout the process, we have had the involvement of the county, cities and villages to identify possible projects,” Hagen-Moeller said. “The plan lists more than 200 possible ideas, but hopefully these 18 we chose are more ready to go and already have the buy-in of the local agencies in their area.”

Being competitive

Hagen-Moeller said the coalition itself also can apply for a state EPA grant to help pay for projects.

“It’s competitive against other watershed coalitions. But hopefully they can get at least one of these projects funded in this grant cycle,” she said.

Pollution experts who worked with the coalition concluded that only 9 percent of the watershed’s area remains as farmland, but as much phosphate and sediment slips into water from that 9 percent as from all the “urban land.”

It is the urban land, however — lawns, streets, etc. — that produces most of the pollution from nitrates and “biological oxygen demand” (rotting organic material that competes with fish, shellfish and plankton for dissolved oxygen in a stream).

A whopping 23,750 tons of sediment — soil and sand washed away by rain — flows into the Fox in the watershed every year, according to the plan.

Based on votes from the various “stakeholders” who attended coalition meetings, the plan concludes that the most urgent things to teach residents about are how to avoid runoff from streets and parking lots; how to keep sediment from being washed off from construction sites; and how to keep stream banks from being eroded.

“Everyone within this watershed depends directly on the Fox River, its tributaries and our groundwater resources for the water we use for drinking, cooking, bathing, watering the lawn, etc.,” Ander said in a written statement. “This is a finite resource that must be managed to maintain quality and quantity. We cannot take this responsibility lightly.”

The entire plan can be seen at

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