Editor’s note: This is the September installment of a monthly column written by the city of DeKalb’s Citizens Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption, and planting native habitat.
A watershed is an area of land where all the surface water drains to the same location, whether that’s a river, lake, stream, or other body of water. Most of DeKalb is in the Upper South Branch of the Kishwaukee River.
At first glance, it doesn’t really seem like there is a great deal to talk about when it comes to our watershed, but there is much more to it than just where our surface water drains. The watershed includes our sources of groundwater as well as elements of climate, plant growth, animals and human elements, including construction, agriculture and altered flows of stormwater runoff and more.
Protecting and preserving our watershed is an important goal and there are many challenges to be met.
The Upper South Branch of the Kishwaukee River is considered impaired in terms of both aesthetic quality and as suitable habitat for edible fish. Water quality tests show high levels of phosphorus, nitrogen, and solids, much of this coming from agriculture and from urban land use.
Also of concern is how much of the area’s woodlands and wetlands remain. Almost all the original woodlands in the area are gone, as are more than 90% of the original wetlands. The vast majority of areas along riverbeds are in poor ecological condition as well.
Fortunately, there is a lot that individuals can do to help our watershed.
Native plants rather than invasive and non-native species can help with groundwater retention and topsoil retention. Rain gardens as well as using rain barrels can help prevent runoff and topsoil erosion. This is especially true for any properties that are adjacent to streams and the river. Here, native plants can help stabilize river and stream banks, both increasing areas for native plants and animals to thrive and preventing additional erosion lost into the streams and river.
To help protect and improve our watershed, the Upper South Branch Kishwaukee River Improvement Plan has been created, including an action plan with site-specific recommendations and goals. These include use of rainwater, native plant landscaping, green infrastructure planning septic system management and maintenance, improving water quality and more.
The plan also includes recommendations for retrofitting detention ponds, restoring stream and riverbanks and wetlands, and managing and restoring natural areas.
The issues that we are facing with our watershed are not new. The changes have happened over the course of decades, from the first moments of construction and agriculture along the watershed. The changing landscape slowly has caused changes to the watershed, often with serious and unintended consequences.
Where we go from here depends in large part on how the watershed is managed moving forward, including how we continue to build, how we deal with stormwater and how we manage our natural resources.
The watershed is everyone’s business, and improving it is everyone’s business, too.
For information on the Upper South Branch Kishwaukee River Watershed Improvement Plan, visit dekalbcountywatersheds-il.org/ or bit.ly/DKLBwater.