KANKAKEE — A former Indiana lawmaker had a sure applause line for a Kankakee County crowd this week: “We are going to target all of our energies to stop sending sand to Illinois.”
The sand is no gift. It is clogging up the river, causing more frequent flooding.
At the monthly county board meeting, Scott Pelath, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission in Indiana, said the partnership between Illinois and Indiana on river issues has never been as strong as it is now.
“Our very first action was to invite representatives from Illinois to become part of the commission,” Pelath, a former Democratic state representative in Indiana, told the Kankakee County Board on Tuesday.
Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler and Iroquois County Board Chairman John Shure are advisory commission members.
For the county board meeting, Wheeler invited Pelath and two others speakers to talk about Kankakee River’s problems.
Siavash Belk, of Burke Engineering, advised that officials avoid measures such as general dredging, levees and more farm tiling as solutions to flooding.
“These things have negative impacts for other people and don’t solve the problem,” Belk said. “We cannot send our problems to others.”
Rather, he suggested patching up river banks to prevent more sediment from going into the river. He also advised more rigorous rules regulating urban development and farm drainage.
Often, Belk said, people bring up the issue of property rights when facing drainage regulations, arguing they have a right to do what they want on their land.
“So do those who are impacted,” he said. “They have a property right. You have to think about that.”
Over the last century, the peak annual flow on the Kankakee River has skyrocketed by nearly 80 percent in Momence, according to Belk’s data. That compares to 88 percent and 122 percent in Chebanse and Wilmington, respectively. Those levels are expected to stay the same or continue to rise, Belk said.
The increases are the result of climate change, unchecked urban development and increased surface drainage on farms, Belk said.
“If you are in a floodplain, you should probably expect flooding. The question is how to cope with it,” he said.
In Aroma Park, the problem of river sedimentation is caused by both the Kankakee and its tributary, the Iroquois River. The Kankakee brings sand, while the Iroquois sends clay and silt, Belk said. The Iroquois, he said, needs more study.
“We have no knowledge of what’s happening on the Iroquois River,” Belk said. “We have to get our hands around that.”