Unseen Risks and Hidden Costs: The Controversial Plan to Remove Fox River Dams

07 June, 2024

The Hidden Consequences of Dam Removal on the Fox River

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently recommended the removal of all nine dams on the Fox River in Kane County, stretching from the Carpentersville Dam to the Montgomery Dam. The primary goal is to restore the river’s natural wildlife habitat and improve water quality. However, this recommendation has sparked significant debate among Kane County residents, many of whom are concerned about the potential negative impacts.

Community Concerns: Water Levels, Recreation, and Property Values

Residents are worried that removing the dams will lower water levels, affecting water recreation and commerce tied to the river. Additionally, there is fear that decreased water levels could lead to declining property values. The projected cost of removing the dams stands at $14,135,000, a substantial investment that comes with numerous potential risks.

The Unspoken Impacts of Dam Removal

Environmental and Recreational Changes

Dam removal will likely narrow the river by 25-50%, potentially transforming expansive water bodies into foul-smelling mudflats. These exposed areas might contain long-buried hazardous waste, posing health risks. The loss of these water bodies could have far-reaching consequences:

  1. Economic Impact on Local Businesses: Restaurants, hotels, parks, bike paths, and residential areas might suffer as the river's role as a recreational and tourist attraction diminishes.
  2. Water Supply Issues: Cities like Elgin, which rely on the river for water supply, could face significant reductions in available resources.
  3. Wildlife Habitat Destruction: The removal of retention ponds created by the dams would destroy habitats for diverse species, including endangered ones like eagles.

The Role of Retention Ponds

Retention ponds play a crucial role in the ecosystem:

  • Pollution Treatment: These ponds treat urban runoff and wastewater discharge, helping to clean the water.
  • Carbon Footprint Reduction: Wetlands created by these ponds absorb CO2, contributing to carbon footprint reduction.
  • Winter Food Sources: The dams prevent water from freezing, providing year-round food sources for various species.

Financial and Environmental Burdens

The costs associated with dam removal extend beyond the initial $14,135,000 estimate:

  • Shoreline and Wetland Restoration: Extensive restoration will be required for wetlands developed over the past 180 years.
  • Storm Water Infrastructure Adjustments: Storm water piping must be relocated to match the new river boundary.
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Modifications: Intake structures will need relocation or modification.
  • Hazardous Waste Mitigation: Exposed contaminated sediment from past industrial dumping could threaten downstream communities' drinking water.

Additionally, local municipalities will bear the miscellaneous costs of permitting, acquiring easements, and managing equipment and materials.

A Viable Alternative: The Stepped Spillway

Instead of complete removal, an alternative proposed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) involves adding a stepped spillway to the existing dams. This solution offers several benefits:

  • Aeration and Aesthetic Improvement: The spillway would aerate the water and enhance the river’s beauty.
  • Retention of Impoundments: This approach keeps the impoundments, preserving habitats and recreational areas.
  • Risk Elimination: The stepped spillway mitigates the risks associated with dam removal, such as hazardous waste exposure and habitat destruction.


While the removal of the Fox River dams aims to restore natural habitats and improve water quality, the potential adverse effects on the environment, local economy, and community well-being cannot be overlooked. The stepped spillway presents a promising alternative that balances ecological benefits with the preservation of the river’s current uses and attractions. This solution offers a way to improve the Fox River while safeguarding the interests and concerns of Kane County residents.