Accelerate removal of the Hammel Woods Dam in Shorewood, IL

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We, residents in the Village of Shorewood Illinois and surrounding areas, hereby petition the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the Village of Shorewood Government to accelerate the removal of the Hammel Woods low-head dam.

Two more people have tragically drowned at the Hammel Woods Dam on March 31st, 2019. If you agree that the dangers posed by this dam far outweigh any sentimental or aesthetic value, please read and consider signing this petition.

What is a "low-head" or "run of the river" dam and why are they dangerous?

Low-head dams are small often concrete structures usually no more than 10 feet high.  Water constantly flows over them since they have no gates or water control devices.  They were typically built to provide water for grain mills or early hydroelectric generators, or to create impounds for recreational purposes.  Because of their small size, their dangers are often underestimated.

Low-head dams have little practical use today.  Coined as "drowning machines", they are the most dangerous type of dam and are responsible for over 500 deaths across the US since the 1980s, and over two dozen in the Chicagoland area alone.  Recirculating currents in the boil, large hydraulic forces, and reduced buoyancy due to bubbles created by the overflow make them nearly impossible to escape.  Often, they are not even seen by boaters on the river until it's too late.  

The Hammel Woods low-head dam

The Hammel Woods Dam itself is approximately 80-90 years old and is constructed of quarried limestone with a concrete foundation.  It stands at 4 feet high, 110 feet across, and creates a relatively small impound (pool) behind the dam of approximately 5.2 acres.  Hammel Woods is a very popular recreation area, and a large number of people frequent the area near the dam, increasing the likelihood of another accident.  The Hammel Woods Dam was originally built to create a pool for recreational use on the Dupage River, one of the very features that make it so dangerous today.

Past Studies and Assessments of the dam

At least two studies have been done related to the DuPage river low-head dams, the first being completed over 15 years ago.  Both recommend complete removal of the Hammel Woods Dam specifically.

(Click each red link to view full report)

October 2003 Study - "Results of the 2003 analysis subsequently concluded that the preferred alternative with respect to Hammel Woods Dam was a Complete Dam Removal."

"... 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..."

"...this dam is considered to have the most threat to public safety due to its dangerous hydraulics."

"...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."

December 2017 Assessment - "a District decision to move forward with...a complete above grade removal including a riffle and boulder features to enhance aquatic habitat and subsequent river health."

"...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"

Advantages/Disadvantages of Dec 2017 Assessment recommendation

Advantages
-Improves Ecological Factors Such as Water Quality, and Aquatic Habitat.
-Returns the Reach of River to its Natural Conditions.
-Re-establishes the river’s recreational connectivity for paddlers
-Reduces/Eliminates the District’s Long-Term Maintenance Responsibilities
-Removes the District’s Liability Associated with its Public Safety Hazard and Owning the Dam (i.e. no IL Dam Safety requirements)
-Opportunity to provide the sound of falling water associated with a dam

Disadvantages
-Relatively Higher Cost as Compared to a Partial Removal
-Land and Recreational Uses Would be Different than Existing
-Dam May Have Sentimental Value to Public

Recent incidents at the Hammel Woods Dam (not a complete list)

Three kayakers are lucky to be alive (click the link for video)

May 1993 - 41-year-old Joliet man drowned at the dam
July 2011 - 4 Kayakers rescued at the dam
June 2013 - 24-year-old Itasca man drowned at the dam
May 2018 - Empty kayaks at dam prompt emergency response
March 2019 - a 28-year-old man and 22-year-old woman drowned at the dam

What now?

Chicago Tribune Article on the latest incident (click link for article)

"Coincidentally, Will County forest preserve commissioners this week were expected to review two resolutions regarding the eventual removal of the dam. The district has been working since 2017 with the Lower DuPage Water Coalition to find ways to improve water quality and safety on the river, Cain said.

After a study of options, removal of the Hammel Woods dam was identified as the highest priority.

The district’s operations committee Wednesday is expected to vote on a resolution for phase 2 engineering for dam removal. The study is expected to cost $104,000. Committee members also are expected to vote on a resolution of agreement with the DuPage Water Coalition for the coalition to fund the study.

The study is expected to be completed later this year. Initial estimates show dam removal could cost $585,000, which also is expected to be covered by the coalition. Dam removal could begin as early as next year, Cain said.

Both resolutions, if approved by the committee, would be presented for a vote of the full forest preserve district board at its April 11 meeting, Cain said."

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The decision to remove the dam "eventually" is the right one, but this process could take years.  Together we can send a strong message that one more life lost is one too many.  Regardless of how or why people end up trapped in the dam, removal of this drowning machine as soon as possible will immediately mitigate these dangerous conditions forever.

Thank you for signing this petition.