Landowners Protect and Enhance Water Resources

Landowners Protect and Enhance Water Resources

By Joseph Hughes, Bull Creek Stakeholders Association

The Dead River watershed encompasses approximately 18.6 square miles that drain into Lake Michigan by way of Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County, Illinois. This watershed drains the predominantly urban and suburban areas of Zion, Beach Park, and Waukegan and includes the Bull Creek and Glen Flora tributaries, which form a system of ravines that flow into the Dead River – a complex of small lakes, wetlands, and slow moving channels – in Illinois Beach State Park.

Approximately 60% of the land in the Dead River watershed is developed. An increase in urban development in the watershed over the last several decades has added stress to the natural drainage system provided by Bull Creek and the Glen Flora Tributary. As the watershed has been developed Bull Creek has become extremely incised and eroded throughout its downstream reaches because of the additional volume and velocity of stormwater that has been discharged to the channel.

Stormwater draining from the cities of the watershed carries pollutants ranging from salt and motor oil to lawn pesticides and fertilizers. The erosion of the Bull Creek channel has resulted in significant debris accumulation, has exposed a sanitary sewer line, and has resulted in sediment and pollutants being transported into the high quality wetlands of Illinois Beach State Park, damaging wildlife habitat and threatening rare and endangered species.

In 1999 a group of concerned landowners, who had witnessed years of unchecked erosion in Bull Creek, came together to form the Bull Creek Stakeholders Association (BCSA). The group’s mission is to protect and enhance the water resources of the Dead River Watershed in an environmentally responsible and economically efficient manner, while respecting the interests of stakeholders throughout the watershed. BCSA set out to fulfill this mission through projects and activities that emphasize public awareness, landowner education, coordination among all stakeholder jurisdictions, and cooperative planning and restoration.

A first step to addressing Bull Creek degradation was to develop a stream restoration plan for the downstream reach of the creek. This plan calls for restoring the stability of the creek channel and riparian corridor using biotechnical erosion control practices. In order to implement the restoration plan in a holistic manner, multiple landowners along the stream needed to work together. To this end, BCSA set out to obtain conservation easements from property owners along the banks of Bull Creek.

BCSA went about acquiring the conservation easements by conducting a series of informational meetings to inform the landowners about what is involved in the process. They also sent out individual packages to each affected landowner and met with landowners one on one to describe the process. With the assistance of funds from a GLAHNF grant, BCSA began distributing door-to-door flyers, sending out press releases, and mailing letters to riparian landowners, local officials, and other identified stakeholders to assist with obtaining the easements.

While the process of obtaining the easements from the landowners was still underway, BCSA hired a local land surveyor to properly document the region; thus making it possible to identify the specific area that BCSA was working to study and monitor for improvements. The surveyor plotted and produced a map of the area as well as individual descriptions detailing where the desired easement area would be on each parcel.

BCSA had a preferred width of 50 feet from the centerline of the ravine and a minimum width of 35 feet from the centerline of the ravine. The group was successful at obtaining the preferred width for the majority of the project area. This survey later served as documentation when the easements were legally recorded at our county courthouse. In all, ten parcels had easements recorded.

The project was a great success in educating the public on the degradation of their watershed. With few exceptions, landowners were very supportive and excited about the prospect of restoring and improving the water resources in their watershed, and they were eager to jump on board. Only the newcomers to the area, five years or less, saw less of a need to proceed as they had not witnessed the mass property losses over the years. Through educational programs BCSA, which was initially composed of approximately 10 people, grew to over 80 members.

Baseline data was collected prior to any construction activity allowing us to monitor stream restoration progress. With funding support from several grant sources, restoration has begun with vegetation management, mostly the removal of non-native and invasive species, and the installation of four artificial riffles as grade control structures. Now that the BCSA has the easements legally established and recorded, the local Stormwater Management Commission (SMC) has secured funding to continue restoration. Work is scheduled for winter 2003-2004 to install additional environmentally sound stormwater control structures, excavate floodplain terraces, and re-vegetate the area with native plants.

SMC has also received funding to conduct a comprehensive study of the Dead River watershed that will identify corrective procedures to address broad stream health issues. While there is much work left to be accomplished, BCSA knows that we are maintaining the integrity of our watershed for future generations.

Bull Creek Stakeholders Association
Joseph Hughes
9797 Paxton Drive, Bach Park, IL 60099
(847) 872-4943

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.