Around Town with Judy Martini: Tour of the Pistakee Lake Watershed Studies Water Quality and Plant/Wildlife

The sun was shining as a boat full of environmentalists toured the Pistakee Lake Watershed on the Chain O'Lakes. The boat tour was a recap of issues studied through a grant received by Lake County Storm Water Management and the Fox Waterway Agency. The group had been meeting for months looking at the impacts occurring to water quality on the Chain O'Lakes. The group is hoping to receive Federal 319 grant money to provide solutions to improve water quality.

The Pistakee Lake Watershed Tour reviewed shoreline protection situations which impact aquatic plant life. Participants also discussed port of entries within the watershed which cause pollution impacting water clarity. Discussion took place about the importance of wetlands and it was interesting to find out that one acre of wetland equals one million gallons of water. There is great concern about the dwindling acreage of functional wetlands within the Chain O'Lakes area and the sedimentation loads occurring on Grass Lake, which at one time was over 100 feet deep according to the Fox Waterway Agency.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division was encouraged by a new group that was formed recently in Wisconsin called the Sewer Pac, which will be reviewing negative impacts within the Fox River Watershed in Wisconsin which flows directly through the Chain O'Lakes here in Illinois. According Wayne Blake, Chairman of the Fox Waterway Agency, between 50,000 and 70,000 cubic yards of sedimentation is entering the Chain O'Lakes yearly, with a large percentage of that coming from agricultural lands in Wisconsin.

The Pistakee Lake Watershed group toured the lotus beds which were successfully re-established by the Fox Waterway over 20 years ago. After the lotus plants are established it takes seven years for the seeds to germinate to produce new plants. The lotus beds originally grew in this area back in the late 1800's but were killed off from a severe winter. The lotus beds were a large tourism draw because Grass Lake was only one of three areas world-wide where the lotus beds grew. The flowers were cultivated to make fragrant perfume which was sold by local businesses in the early 1900's.

The Pistakee Lake Watershed Group also toured the geo-tube-created island off of Grass Lake Channel. The island was created over 20 years ago, and was made with dredged material. It is a habitat for many endangered species, including the pelicans who nest there when looking for shade. Officials for the Fox Waterway are still looking into creating and recreating islands to put the silt sedimentations back where it came from and creating wetlands which provide a habitat for wildlife. The Fox Waterway Agency also discussed alternatives for dredging containment sites.