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By Brett Herrmann
Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ director on Thursday got an up-close look at repairs being made where heavy rains and a plugged storm drain caused a major break and loss of water in the Hennepin Canal levee in February.
After DNR Director Colleen Callahan spoke at an NCICG event Thursday morning in Spring Valley, she met with members of the Friends of the Hennepin Canal, Better Fishing Association, and others interested in the Hennepin Canal.
The meeting was arranged by state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa), said Barry Welbers, president of the Better Fishing Association of Northern Illinois.
“She creates optimism,” Welbers said of his impression of Callahan not only meeting with canal advocates but also taking a ride to the canal levee repair site with Matthew and Christa Gehrke, private recreational landowners from Sycamore whose property abuts the canal break location near Lock 7.
Welbers said he knows Callahan doesn’t have a blank checkbook — “everyone has someone to answer to” — but it’s encouraging that she went to look at the canal, in addition to listening to concerns about needs for preservation of the canal.
The project that’s ongoing between Bureau and Tiskilwa is massive, said Welbers. He noted the amazing amount of rock that’s been brought in for repair at the break location, as well as the emergency engineering and installation of a temporary culvert to keep water flowing through the canal and not out the side and down toward Bureau Creek. A large concrete drainage structure to allow runoff water from a drainage ditch to flow under the canal is going in to replace the structure that failed and caused the breach.
Welbers said the Friends of the Hennepin Canal have emphasized a No. 1 priority at this time is the repair or replacement of sluice gate, also called Lock 33, which regulates the flow of water into the canal from the Rock River near Rock Falls. He said the Friends say that key component is fragile, and if it failed it could cause flooding immediately downstream as well as an excessive flow of water and damage and breaches to dikes downstream in the Hennepin Canal system.
The canal Friends also provided Callahan with what they see as a list of needs at priorities for the Hennepin Canal State Parkway.