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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

On the Importance of the Dam and Spillway

Shortly after publishing the Irrigation Tour, my incredibly kind tour guides reached out and shared that I buried the lead. As with so many things I've uncovered in my process of understanding what is going on with our village -- the rabbit trails are deep. The system of irrigation that two golf courses rely on is both complicated (when you consider how many things can go wrong), rather simple and elegant (in that it uses a single source of water and successfully waters 36 holes of golf -- and has for almost 30 years), and it works (but only if you maintain it).

So, what lead did I bury? Well, when I went on the tour, we spent a lot of time standing (more like crouching under the overgrowth) on the earthen dam and the spillway. I mentioned that it is integral to the system -- but I don't think I empathized that enough.

Our lake system is very much like a bucket. Water comes into the top of the bucket from the Kishwaukee and rain and it held in the bucket by the earthen dam. When the water gets too high, it flows over the top of our bucket (the spillway), but as much water as can be retained is held in by that dam. Do not miss this -- that earthen dam is manmade! The lakes are not naturally forming lakes -- prior to the dam being there, that land was either swampy or grassland. And manmade things must be maintained.

In the history of time there is not a single thing that man has made that nature has not tried to reclaim due to lack of maintenance. Thus, if that dam goes, we would have a serious problem -- both in terms of a sudden loss of lakes, and in the flooding that would occur as millions of gallons of water push out into the golf course, the wetlands, and the houses south.

I have the last inspection report for the dam was 2008. In that inspection, there were notes that the dam had a 24 gpm (gallon per minute) leak and that the damn could not be fully inspected because of the overgrowth. While some (not all) of the critical items from that report were addressed, does seem odd that we haven't seen an inspection report on the dam in 12 years?

I'm not an engineer. I'm not qualified to inspect the dam -- nor do I believe anyone on our board or employed by the village is qualified to inspect the dam. But the first line item on The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Inspection list is "a. Grass: should be thick, vigorous growth and short enough to prevent clumping and laying-over which may kill growth. b. Trees: there should be no trees on the earth embankment or earth emergency spillway or within 20ʹ + of the earth embankment or concrete structures." Fail. There is next to no grass on the dam -- it is all saplings, large trees, and brush.

So, if we fail that -- what else do we need to do? We can't know without an inspection. And why is it vital that the village get that dam inspected (and perform whatever the needed remedies are)? Because we could be liable if we don't!

"The owner of a dam is responsible for the operation, maintenance, and inspection of his structure. Negligence of the owner in fulfilling his responsibilities can lead to the creation of extremely hazardous conditions to downstream properties and residents. In the event of failure the owner can be subjected to a barrage of liability claims. Criminal charges have been filed on occasion as the result of catastrophic dam failures."

Now -- we have a a dam that is overgrown and needs inspection. If this well actually happens the increase water in the lakes will increase the pressure on the dam -- which is why it is vital to clear, inspect, and repair the dam before anything else. I'm also pleased to note that there is a program with the IDNR to inspect dams -- a program that we'd need only to reach to them and set-up. I don't get any impression that it's free, but looking at the permit fee structure, it's reasonable to guess that it would be far less than the proposed $20,000 for a shallow well.

One other thing that might come as news to anyone who has moved to the village after the late 1980's -- between 1991 and 1993, the village attempted many well based solutions to irrigate RedTail. In 1993 dollars, the village the spent about $70,000 trying to dig both a deep well and several shallow ones -- none of them produced water. NONE. It was based on a report from 1993 the Turnberry Water Agreement idea was hatched. It appears that at that time, the Village was willing to work out a solution that would cost far less than the $70,000 in failed attempts to assist in building and maintaining the current solution.

Our village has a responsibly to protect our property values. While it may be easy to think of the lakes as an issue only for those who have houses on the lakes; like so very much of Lakewood -- our property values are all interdependent. The lakes in Turnberry don't just supply water for RedTail, thus helping maintain the property values for those who live on and use the golf course, but they are also a vital part of the "Natural Setting" called out in our tagline "Quality Living in a Natural Setting." Even the Gates are affected if the dam goes and the lakes drain because the resources that the village would need to spend for the ensuing repairs (and legal action) will divert money from solving any of the water issues in the Gates.

All of Lakewood has real issues as a result of years of deferred maintenance and poor advanced planning; and we have an opportunity to turn that around. We have a chance, with proper planning and strategic thinking to prioritize the needs of our infrastructure correctly -- and that begins with an inspection and repair to the dam and spillway.

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