BY SAM VAN CAMP
I’ve been asked by quite a few readers to comment on the removal of the dams in our area. If you have been following the news during the past week or so, you know that there are a lot of people who object to their removal. I have talked with many readers of this column and I’ve talked to no one who is in favor of their removal.
I grew up with these dams as places to fish and enjoy the day. I grew up fishing the rivers as a teenager and these rivers have had an impact on my life. Now the removal of several dams is a possibility and the reason is the catch-all of reasons used by many today: Liability.
Ann Wells of Danville hit the nail on the head last Sunday in this paper when she mentioned the valuable smallmouth bass within these rivers. Few areas of Illinois are home to the smallmouth population we have here in Vermilion County. Not mentioned were the populations of large musky, walleye, flathead catfish and gars that will be impacted by the removal of these dams as well.
As a kid I would play with water and would place a rock or two and trickle the water downhill. The more rocks I put there, the more the water slowed down to get around them. Remove the rocks and the water would rush downhill again. A simple fact is that water travels the path of least resistance when moving downhill. All rivers but one flow downhill. The dams are placed there to hold the water back and many fish remain where they are because of dams.
If these dams are removed the fish may well swim downstream to the Wabash River and our valuable smallmouth population may be changed or lost altogether. The Middle Fork River is Illinois’s only scenic river and has regulations in place that do not allow for it to be altered. The Middle Fork River flows thought Kickapoo State Park and drains into the Salt Fork River at Anderson Hill just down from the Possum Trot Supper Club. If these dams are removed, it could change the entire drainage of parts of Vermilion County.
In the late 1960’s, then-Governor Dan Walker promised Vermilion County a Reservoir: The Middle Fork Reservoir. Later Governor Jim Thompson axed the project. A lot of the problem came from environmentalists from west of us and the problem was over a very small fish called the Blue Breasted Darter. The Danville area lost a potential big lake over a minnow that no one to this day has ever shown me or told me they have seen. Now we have much more valuable species of fish in jeopardy and we need these environmentalists to jump in and help preserve a much more valuable resource, our rivers.
If liability is the issue here then we need to look at everything that makes a city liable. When we drive down a street there are signs; signs that tell us how fast to drive, lights and signs that tell us when to stop, etc. The people that end up ticketed, hurt or dead are normally those that don’t pay any attention to the signs yet we don’t close our roadways.
How can a state so far in debt that they can’t even man our state parks have the money to remove a dam? I just hope the people running this city have studied the effects of this action and how it will impact our scenic river. It seems to me that the Middle Fork River would have to have laws in place that would keep us from tampering with its flow. Common sense needs to prevail in this issue and I for one don’t buy that liability is the only issue here.
Whatever you do, help pack the meeting room the night of the vote and help to preserve our rivers as they are. Signs in the right places, fines for not abiding by them, and simply closing the rivers when they become dangerous sure seems like a better way then altering the drainage flow of our county.
Once the dams are removed, you won’t be able to put them back!
Sam Van Camp writes about the outdoors on Fridays and Sundays. Call him at 662-6559. Fax: 446-6648. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org