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Why Is There a Dam on the DuPage River in Shorewood Anyway?

You may have heard the story earlier this week of two people who drowned in the DuPage River in Shorewood. The video above from WGN tells the story.

The incident started because one of the victims was apparently walking along the low head dam located in the Hammel Woods Forest Preserve. It’s not the first time the dam has lead to bodies needing to be recovered from the water.

You see these types of dams all over the area; on the Fox River and DuPage Rivers. They have their roots in the early industrial days of the area when industry relied on the mechanical power of the rivers, usually for types of mills. Now, they are mostly obsolete.

According to this study dams on the DuPage River by the EPA in 2003, while the dams may once have served a purpose, they don’t do much of anything today:

As discussed in Sections 2 through 5 of this report, three of the five dams within the study area do not provide any useful function other than they maintain a flat water pool and create the sound of rushing water, both of which are usually considered attractive to many people visiting the public areas around these dams. Moreover, all of the dams (the ones at Channahon and Hammel Woods in particular) create an elevated safety hazard to the people using the river, be it for fishing, swimming, or boating.

Bottom line, the risk far outweighs the reward for this dam in Hammell Woods to remain in place.

Check this out from a report by WKD Engineering regarding the possibility of removing the dam two years ago.

The Hammel Woods Dam is approximately 80-90 years old and is constructed of quarried limestone with a concrete foundation as described in the document entitled, “Assessment of the Hammel Woods Dam and Its Impacts to the DuPage River”, 2003. Previous investigations of the site revealed that the low head dam across the river at this location impedes aquatic species movement upstream, forces paddlers to portage around the structure under most flow conditions, and presents a life- threatening hazard to paddlers who go over the dam or for persons wading the river immediately below the dam. Thankfully, and finally, the Forest District of Will County has started to move in the direction of dam removal.

There’s a reason they are called “death machines.” If you feel the same way, you can sign this petition to try and expedite the process.

It seems like experts have been calling for a removal of that dam since AT LEAST 2003 (with that study by the EPA).

The warning signs aren’t cutting it. The dam has to go.


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