Saturday, April 23, 2011

Opportunity Exists to Right Wrongs in Old Water Plan at Rend Lake

On the surface water allocation rights don't seem to be a topic important to Southern Illinois tourism, but John Tranquilli, Ph.D., retired director of the Office of Resource Management at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources dives into the topic and how it's important to recreation use at Rend Lake.

Tranquilli made the points in a column in the Southern Illinoisan earlier this week.
In 1970, when Rend Lake was first built, the primary purpose for the lake was municipal and industrial water supply. At that time, the Office of Water Resources of the state of Illinois was given responsibility by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for the allocation of up to 109,000 acre feet of water from the "joint use pool" at Rend Lake. The joint use pool is defined as the volume of water in Rend Lake from an elevation of 405 feet above sea level to 391 feet above sea level. The initial water allocation gave no consideration to the impact of this allocation on outdoor recreation or natural resources at Rend Lake.

The key phrase is "no consideration to the impact... on outdoor recreation." That impact to the local economy has grown to around $30 million annually.

It's because recreation wasn't taken into consideration 41 years ago that leaves us to the mudflats that are all too frequent at the lake.

The spillway at Rend Lake is presently uncontrolled with the bottom of the notch at an elevation of 405 feet. When the water reaches the bottom of the notch, only 2 feet of water remains before recreational interests are impaired, but under OWR's 40-year-old contract, they are willing and able to continue removing water until the lake level falls to 399 feet. In fact, according to OWR's contract, more than 50 percent of the water allocated to them is still available, in spite of the fact that at the current allocation rate the lake has already reached 403 feet on 10 separate occasions. This disparity must be corrected to protect outdoor recreation.

The good news is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is presently updating its Water Control Plan at the lake. Tranquilli supports retrofitting the notch to 407 feet providing another two feet of water depth.

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