Woods && Wetlands

Woods & Wetlands


Joining Illinois Sierra Club Members in Lake and Northeastern Cook Counties

June, 1999, Issue #28

In This Issue 

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CALENDAR: Meetings & Outings

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June 8 Public Meeting: Rain Man

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July 13 Public Meeting: Heart of Tibet

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Loss of Open Space Remains a Challenge

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On-line Petition to Oppose Route 53

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$250M Clean Energy Trust Fund!

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W&W News Editor Needed

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Lake County Board Ponders Crossroads Study


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June 8 Public Meeting: Rain ManReturn to Top

 Human activity has dramatically changed the fate of the average Woods & Wetlands raindrop. Jim Patchett, landscape architect, authority on watershed planning, and speaker at our June Meeting, has written a paper: The Ecology and Culture of Water. In it he explains that prior to settlement, the spongy soils created by native plants absorbed the immense amount of water delivered by rain. Now, human ambitions to farm and build on these lands have inspired many practices that move the water out of the soil and over the surface. Ultimately, diverting our rainwater into the narrowed waterways in this flat landscape impoverishes the land, overwhelms the waterways, and damages our wetlands.

Early history  reveals that our region's "rivers" were so slow moving that they were more like wetlands, and the soils were so porous that they didn't need rivers. The plants that created these soils, and thrived in them, relied on the minerals drawn up from the water table by the evaporating water, and on periodic fires set by Indians and lightning. Most of the land in our region was wet. Very wet. Farmers installed miles of jointed pipes (called tiles) in the wet ground to carry the water to open ditches, which led to lakes and rivers. As farms give way to development, the tiles are replaced by sewers with the same function.

As evidence, the Des Plaines river, now deep year round, previously vanished north of Deerfield in the summer. A trip down the river reveals one "outfall" after another.  The storm sewer outfalls pour water collected from streets, strained from your yard, and skimmed from detention ponds. These carry the greatest load of pollutants: fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, salt, oil; and the sheer volume of water they deliver generates the river as we know it. Other outfalls come from municipal septic treatment plants and industries, and add more pollutants to the water.

The native soils held a reservoir of water that the deep rooted native plants tapped through months of drought. The deep soils that existed where our communities are built have been eroded away by farming, and scraped away by earth movers. A few scant inches of topsoil supports sod: shallow rooted exotic grasses from Europe (strangely called Kentucky Bluegrass). Rainwater quickly drains off of this "grass carpet," and it dries out within a few weeks.

The rivers are not the only recipients of water runoff. Sometimes during the destruction of a wetland by an ill-conceived development, the developers drain the doomed wetland into an adjacent one. Presently, the government incorrectly maintains that wetlands benefit by receiving this water, and there is no law preventing this practice, even if the wetland is home to endangered species. As Jim points out in his paper, the rapid flow of contaminated water from development runoff inflicts damage to the sensitive wetland ecosystems.

Restoring stability will require generating and adopting new development practices appropriate for this region, rather than superimposing large scale reconstruction of the landscape. So far human efforts to contain and mitigate flooding have ignored the ability of wetland ecosystems to sustainably absorb water (as well as CO2 and other pollutants). The US Army Corps of Engineers only recently recognized wetlands as primary flood control measures, and have begun "constructing wetlands" along the Des Plaines. These wetlands, however, receive their water from unsteady surface flows, rather than from rain and steady seepage through porous soils. According to Patchett this kills native aquatic plants, and attracts exotic species characteristic of stress (cattails, canary grass).

Meanwhile, as a result of the continuing drainage of our "hydric" soils, the latest FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) maps, which drive flood insurance rates, indicate an increase of the floodplain elevation of the Des Plaines river by three (3) feet! To reverse this, we need to ask our municipalities to adopt development standards that preserve not only our wetlands, but also our deep topsoil. Rather than letting developers scrape all the topsoil from a site, we should only allow the soil around the buildings to be disturbed, and require mining permits for the type of excavation that is now typical.

In addition, we need learn to how we can reintroduce our rich native ecosystem on our own properties. Come hear Jim’s ideas about how to make the best of your rain. This program was video-taped, and will appear on Public Access TV (Channel 4) in most Lake County areas.

Use These Jewel Shop & Share and Dominick's Benefit Days Coupons. 
Just click Coupons, print them out, and turn them in at the checkout on any of the designated days.

July 13 Public Meeting: Heart of TibetReturn to Top

Join us on a trek through the Himalayan Mountains. David Scheibelhut of the River Prairie Group spent five weeks in 1997 traveling through India, Nepal and Tibet, eventually reaching Mt. Kailash in western Tibet. David will show slides of his trip while discussing the environmental and religious importance of the Himalayas and Mt. Kailash. The high point of the trip, spiritually and physically, is on the mountain at Dolma La pass at 18,660 feet. What a relief get down to the base of the mountain at Lake Manasarovar, a dazzling lake perched at 15,000 feet. If you are interested in exotic cultures and landscapes, do not miss this presentation.

Loss of Open Space Remains a ChallengeReturn to Top

Success of the April 13 Forest Preserve Bond Referendum was a win for the Woods & Wetlands Group, and a tribute to the people of Lake County determined to expand our wonderful preserves. The campaign slogans rang true: Proven record, Great Value. Less than $20 per year. Endorsed by all sides. The $55M will be a big help.
Support the preservation of buffer lands to protect – 
    Volo Bog State Natural Area, 
    Chain O' Lakes State Park, 
    Illinois Beach State Park, 
    Red Wing Slough State Natural Area, 
    Moraine Hills State Park (Black Crown Marsh)
Call your representatives, and ask them to expand these areas.
Do it SOON! : 217-782-2000
The question remains whether this infusion of cash will do enough. Developers would have us believe that it will satisfy the demand for human recreation, and that this is sufficient. The Forest Preserves say it will help maintain balance with growth. We are concerned that it will result in the preservation of less than half (11%) of Lake County’s remaining open space, and that this will not adequately support the spectacular diversity of plants and animals that live here.

We believe that much more of the beauty of this county should be preserved, to protect our quality of life, and to save our remaining wildlife. Governor Ryan and the state legislature has heard our concerns, and they have passed the $160M State Open Lands Trust Initiative.  With 7% of the population, and only 2% of the state open lands, we think that the largest share of that money should come to Lake County, home to more state threatened and endangered species than any other county in Illinois.

We are promoting the expansion of our region's existing IL State Parks and Natural Areas. Most of them presently enjoy the benefit of undeveloped lands buffering them on several sides. But most of these lands are at risk from development, and should be saved to protect the precious Preserves we presently enjoy.

These efforts will help to save the best and most critical wild areas. However, nearly 90% of our territory will still be vulnerable to development. As we witness this open space being covered over at such a rapid pace, many of us feel an enormous sense of loss of the quality that first attracted us to this area. In addition, the large expanses of wetlands and fields outside our Forest Preserves are relied upon heavily by the herons, egrets, and other ranging wildlife that we seek to retain.

People in our region have shown courage at the polls by committing to the expensive proposition to buy land for open space. Nevertheless, we lag behind other collar counties in the percentage of open lands we have protected. If we try to preserve more species while preserving less open space than our neighboring counties, we will likely fail.

To save our verdant landscapes we need to look beyond land purchase, and question why development continues to sprawl into open space, far from commercial centers, jobs, and workers. The answer lies in just who is paying for the infrastructure.

On-line Petition to Oppose Route 53 Return to Top

Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation has placed an on-line petition opposing the extension of Route 53 through Lake, McHenry and Will counties at www.ethepeople.com. The petition can be found under the issue of "Roads & Transportation" and it is titled "Opposition to the Route 53 Extension."

Cyber-sign it and offer to "pass it along" to your own list of cyber pals -- you can alert up to 10 friends by supplying their e-mail addresses on the "pass it along" option of the website. The signed petition will be sent to the Governor, James "Pate" Phillip and Kirk Brown in the fall.

$250M Clean Energy Trust Fund!Return to Top

Responding to increased pressure from environmental groups, ComEd is endowing this Fund. It will support: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ($200M), Clean Coal initiatives, the IL Citizens Utility Board, and IL Natural Habitats and Wildlife Areas. The Governor, the four legislative leaders, and ComEd will each appoint one voting trustee, including a representative from an Illinois environmental advocacy organization.

Lake County legislators to the Illinois General Assembly played a crucial role in pushing legislation that precipitated this deal: Peterson, Moore, Geo-Karis, plus support from Garret, and Gash. Thanks to all who voiced concern.

The sobering part of this story is that this is a small ransom paid to clear the way for their $4.9B windfall coal plant sale profits without first cleaning up their dirty emissions. That should have been required as part of the $5B-$10B "stranded cost" bailout deal the IL utilities got from the rate payers last year, and has now been put off once more. We will need to continue to apply pressure to Mission Energy, the new owners, to clean up these plants.

W&W News Editor NeededReturn to Top

The newsletter continues to be our only method for reaching all of our members. We need help to continue producing a high quality document. If you are familiar with a word processing program, such as WORD, please volunteer to be our newsletter editor. The editor receives articles and graphics from group leaders, members, and guests, and arranges it into this format. If you have access to e-mail, you can easily collaborate with the present editor, and others who want to help, for proofreading, grammatical editing, clip art, and other skills you are unsure of yourself. Count on plenty of help if you need it getting started. Contact Evan: auk@interaccess.com, or any Group leader, if you’d like to help out.

Lake County Board Ponders Crossroads Study Return to Top

The new  leadership of the Lake County Board has vowed to take a fresh look at addressing the county’s transportation problems. Yet, as they pursue new solutions, the endorsement of the proposed extension of Rt. 53 by the prior pro-growth board remains in place. Even the Tollway-funded "Transportation Improvement Project," with their obvious bias in favor of the extension, has adopted a neutral position on the extension during their reevaluation period. As a first step, the Board has begun to hear studies on alternative solutions.

On May 10 the Environmental Law and Policy Center formally presented the Crossroads study for the first time to Lake County board members. Members of the Lake County Planning, Building and Zoning Committee and the Public Works Committee heard firsthand the projected impacts of the proposed extension of Route 53 at a joint committee meeting. ELPC staff member Alexander "Sandy" Ewing, and Norman Marshall, a consultant for ELPC from Resource Systems Group, Inc., gave the presentation.

The message of the presentation was simple: building Route 53 will only exacerbate congestion. It simply will not solve the traffic congestion problems in Lake County. The group called the plan a waste of money that will increase the county's population by 60,000 residents over and above the state's own no-build population forecast increase of 250,000 residents. The road is not anticipated to invite the same gains in employment. While it draws new population to the NW, job growth is expected in the SE, and this will cause more traffic.

Building Route 53 will result in more people making more trips in Lake County, land use and distribution effects will increase auto trip lengths, and the addition of a new road will increase the use of autos over other modes of transportation. A better solution to reduce traffic congestion is to discard the Route 53 proposal and implement the Crossroads plan, a proposal to improve local roads.

Reaction to the Crossroads presentation by committee members was mixed. But what truly compounded the issues at hand was the unexpected presentation by IDOT at the meeting. Members of the Lake County Transportation Improvement Project, and staff from the Illinois Department of Transportation were allowed to present immediately after ELPC. What resulted was a difference of opinion regarding exactly how many people would be attracted to Lake County if Route 53 were built, in what was clearly an attempt by the state to erode the credibility of the ELPC study. However, the presence of both groups at the same meeting also clearly recognized the Crossroads’ plan as a credible alternative to the state's current study.

At the end of both presentations, discussion ensued over the differences in population increases. The state abandoned their ridiculous position that the road will not be responsible for growth, and instead contested exactly how much growth. Ironically, the focus of the discussions concerned computer models, data and forecasting techniques, as opposed to issues of reducing traffic congestion and improving the quality of life for Lake County residents.

Action: Call your board members and ask them to support a formal position of neutrality on the Rt. 53 extension while they ponder alternatives, and to rescind the endorsement that is still on the books from the pro-development board.

While the state continues to bombard the elected officials of the state, Lake County and local municipalities with data projections, forecasts and computer models, it is up to the residents of Lake County to police the scene for what is really important: preserving and improving the quality of life in Lake County. The Crossroads plan offers a clear solution to reducing traffic congestion in Lake County. The state's latest $7.8 million study has yet to prove the same. Officials need to be reminded that the Crossroads plan is the plan backed by volunteer organizations and citizens of Lake County, and that the Crossroads plan is based upon the state's own plans and programs. Now there's something for the Lake County Board to ponder.

When you or your friend join Sierra Club, it helps make the Club stronger. When you do it using a W&W form, more of your membership contribution goes to W&W for local action. Copy this invitation into an e-mail to your friends and edit it so they know it's from you. E-mail your friend

Friend - 
I belong to the Sierra Club Woods & Wetlands because it helps me understand, enjoy, and protect our environment. The Woods & Wetlands Group organizes members from Lake and NE Cook counties for local events, outings and actions. Membership includes the benefits of the national Club: Outings, Sierra magazine, and involvement with national issues. Visit their websites: http://www.sierraclub.org/chapters/il/w&w/ and you'll see what I mean. I hope you'll consider helping to protect our environment and become a member.

Send Us Your E-mail AddressReturn to Top

by Evan Craig
In an effort to cut costs and improve effectiveness, we are giving you the option of receiving issues of this W&W News on our Web site, with e-mail notices, instead of by mail. If we get enough responses we will launch it. Please send an e-mail to: auk@interaccess.com Feel free to include any comments for the leadership, or issues that you think others need to know about. So far we have e-mail addresses for only 80 of our 2,000 members.

Members are invited to join the W&W group's e-mail distribution lists. On the ALERTS list you will receive infrequent timely posts from the Group Chair, primarily on local issues. Some of these appear on this website, and if you subscribe you will learn about them in time to help. The ISSUES list allows you to share in a discussion with other W&Wers. To sign up, click LISTS, and then, for each one you want to try out, insert you name into these commands in the body of the message :
SUB IL-WWG-ALERTS firstname lastname
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