The city of Highland is actively seeking partners to help preserve its No. 1 asset — Silver Lake.
“This is about partnership and working together,” Lisa Peck, Highland’s assistant city manager, told a crowd of about 40 people who gathered at Diamond Mineral Springs in Grantfork for a special meeting Monday, Feb. 20. “We need your help.”
When construction was finished on Silver Lake in 1962, it had a maximum depth of about 30 feet and a mean depth of about 14 feet. It’s original water storage capacity was reported as 12.9 million cubic meters (about 3.4 billion gallons).
But the lake isn’t what it used to be.
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From 1962-2005, 22.2 percent of the lake’s water storage capacity has been lost, engineers estimate. Today, the lake is only about 18 feet at it deepest point, Highland Parks and Recreation Director Mark Rosen said.
So what happened?
Silver Lake’s 37,000-acre watershed is mainly agricultural, about 83 percent, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Farming practices over the 55 years have led to two major problems — erosion and siltation.
Compared to other land use types within the watershed, agricultural fields tend to erode more easily due to their increased exposure to the elements. When water moves through the watershed’s farm fields, it collects eroded materials and deposits them into Silver Lake, and that impedes the water quality and also leaves less room for water storage.
According to a 2008 study of Silver Lake, it was estimated that 61,000 cubic yards (about 12 million gallons) of sediment goes into the lake on an annual basis, of which about 82 percent becomes trapped.
For a little bit of reference, the standpipe water tank near the entrance to Silver Lake Park from Illinois Route 143 holds 1 million gallons. So, the annual sediment accumulation in the lake is equivalent to about 10 of those towers filled with dirt settling on the lake’s bottom.
The siltation problem is one that has been know for some time.
In 2004, Silver Lake was put on the Illinois Section 303(d) List Impaired Waters, classified as a water body that did not meet its designated uses which include aquatic life, fish consumption, swimming and public water supply.
Since then, city officials have commissioned various studies in hopes of finding solutions. The city has been able to implement some recommenced programs on its own, such as placing rip rap to stabilize shorelines.
The city has also looked at dredging the shallow upper regions of the lake, but the cost would be steep, and there are few grants available to help. But, even if the city were to dredge, it would only be a temporary fix, because without erosion control, the area would just silt in again.
For a more permanent solution, the city needs outside partners.
Last week’s meeting
Experts have recommended that the city of Highland coordinate with soil and water conservation districts in Madison and Bond counties to work with local land owners to promote and implement the following best management practices (BMPs) within the Highland Silver Lake watershed. Those BMPs include terraces, conservation tillage, vegetated buffer strips, water and sediment control basins, grass waterways, and stream bank stabilization.
The meeting last week was an outreach session to farmers and land owners whose property is located within the watershed.
Representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District were at the meeting to inform the attendees about programs available for farmers to help improve the watershed area.
Rich Macho, manager of the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, spoke briefly about some of the more effective plans, including the Conservation Reserve Program. Farmers and land owners who enlist in the program agree to not use what the federal agency calls “environmentally sensitive land” on their property for the either a 10- or 15-year term. In exchange, the participating land owner is compensated with a yearly rental payment. The CRP is now the largest land conservation program in the United States and according to Macho, the program is extremely successful and yields results.
“Very effective practices, very effective program,” Macho said. “It’s a really good program for these bad fields.”
There are also many other federal programs available to land owners, Macho said. More information can be seen on the FSA/USDA website.
State Rep. Charlie Meier also attended the meeting. Meier, a farmer from Washington County, said it is important that people within the watershed start utilizing these programs.
“These new programs are paying much better,” Meier said. “Don’t be afraid of them because they are government programs.”
Meier also made a point that he thinks it is imperative that citizens act while they still have full control over their land.
“We haven’t had huge EPA restrictions here,” Meier said. “If we don’t take advantage of what programs we have, they will start telling us what to do. We have to get it together.”
For the city’s part, Peck said the city was looking for partners, as well as alternate ideas for improving the lake.
“The city is not here to tell anyone to do anything,” Peck said. “We are just looking for input from you.”
Peck also hinted that the city might be willing to give incentive to land owners who are interested in participating with conservation programs.
“The city is willing to step forward and potentially help,” Peck said.
Grantfork Mayor Steve Brendel said he thought the meeting was a good starting off point.
“Now, we can start marrying the pieces together,” he said.