Lake at record high level, dredging to beef up beaches

Cam Davis.

Lake Michigan water levels are at a record high and the coastline is getting pinched from above and below, Great Lakes consultant Cam Davis told Evanston residents at the Ecology Center Wednesday night.

More intense rainstorms are causing bluff erosion while the higher lake levels are making the beaches below shrink, Davis, who's also a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, said.

He said climate change appears to be causing the more intense storms and also leading to periods of extremely cold winter weather that reduce evaporation from the lake. But on the other hand, hotter summer weather can increase evaporation.

Lake levels have always fluctuated, Davis added, and that's a very healthy thing. "You see plants and animals come back at different levels," he said.


A full house for the meeting.

Evanston Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway said the rising lake levels have forced closure of the city's dog beach and have dramatically reduced the sandy area at other beaches.

He said the city is one of four North Shore communities that are part of a state sand management working group that has been approved for a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that, possibly as soon as next year, will see sand dredged from the approach to Waukegan Harbor shipped by barge to rebuild the beaches.


Lawrence Hemingway.

Hemingway said the Greenwood and Lee street beaches are the leading candidates in Evanston for the extra sand and that if enough sand is available the city may try to restore the dog beach as well.

Alex Hoxsie of the Corps of Engineers Chicago office said the sand would be pumped from barges to the shore as a liquid slurry and that it may initially appear slightly darker than the existing sand and have a "wet odor."

But those issues will clear up, he said, as the sand is spread on the beach by earthmoving equipment.

The project will also involve planting dune grasses and other vegetation to help hold the sand in place.


Alex Hoxsie.

Hoxsie said the sand to be dredged from the approach channel and outer harbor at Waukegan has been tested and shown to have no detectable level of PCBs or asbestos -- contaminants that were an issue in Waukegan's inner harbor before a cleanup that was completed a few years ago.


An aerial view of Waukegan harbor from the Corps website.

A public review process for the sand project is underway through July 31, and Hoxsie said questions or comments can be emailed to [email protected] or sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 231 South LaSalle St., Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60604.

More information about the project is available on the Corps of Engineers website.

Related story

Waukegan harbor sand to shore up Evanston's shoreline (3/8/19)

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Comments

Why would we allow Waukegan Harbor dirt on our swimming beaches?

The Corps needs to dredge Waukegan Harbor to keep it open for navigation.  It has been having difficulty disposing of the spoils.  So now the idea is to ship them down to our public beaches and pump the stuff onto our swimming areas.  Sure the stuff is free, but is this really a good idea?  

How can we be sure this "dredged material" is free of aquatic invasives and traces of the toxins that have made Waukegan Harbor famous for its industrial pollution?  Won't pumping this stuff on to our beaches smother the near-shore habitat for both birds and fish?  Sure the lake level is high, and our beaches are drowning, but without an engineering plan, this dirt won't hold any better than our existing sand.

Hope everyone involved takes time to give this careful thought, and doesn't allow the Corps to rush into this because of their own need to dredge.

Read up?

Hi Laurie,

It sounds like you haven't read, or disbelieve, the information on the Corps of Engineers website about the project.

Which is it?

If you have data to prove their information wrong, it would be wonderful for you to share it.

But making disparaging claims without offering data to back them up is not helpful.

-- Bill