A miles-long stretch of Spring Brook Creek may undergo a transformation in the coming years to ease flooding downstream and establish a more natural habitat, according to Forest Preserve District of DuPage County officials.
The district is considering overhauling 2.3 miles of streambed in St. James Farm and Blackwell forest preserves, both of which are located between Wheaton and Warrenville in unincorporated DuPage County, with partners Wetlands Initiative, Conservation Foundation and DuPage County Stormwater Management. The creek stretches from St. James Farm to central Wheaton. Glen Ellyn is also part of Spring Brook #1 watershed.
"The creek itself is pretty channelized, so water just rushes right through there," said District Ecology Coordinator Scott Meister. "The bulk of the water isn't connected to the floodplain – typically, water would come up out of a creek, which is good for the environment around it as an ecologically sound habitat for wildlife."
Meister said the area was originally farmland, so the owners wanted to avoid field flooding. Over time, erosion caused the creek to widen and deepen, sending sediment and floodwaters downstream.
Now that 2.2 miles of the proposed 2.3-mile stretch is under forest preserve control, there are no such qualms, Meister said.
Over the course of three phases, the organizations plan on meandering the creek, allowing it to hold more water in that portion of its run; centralizing flooding where it won't affect homeowners; and installing public paths.
The Wetlands Initiative and the district would then introduce native plants to the area to help absorb the increased water and provide a habitat for local fish and mussels.
Meister said the collective is working with engineers on the design of the creek and requires a permit from the county. He is hopeful the first phase – a 3,200-foot stretch in St. James Forest Preserve – will begin this fall and take three or four months to complete.
The Illinois Tollway will contribute $2 million of the estimated $2.2 million needed to fund the phase as part of its Move Illinois: The Illinois Driving the Future program. The tollway will maintain the site for seven years once construction is finished, according to a tollway news release, and the district will take over afterwards.
The remaining work would take place in phase two after funding comes in, Meister said. The district intends to submit grant proposals to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency next year with hopes to begin construction in 2016-17.
The third phase would consist of species control and native plant augmentation, Meister said.
"The project will improve the quality of the whole stream and restore the health of the stream," said Gary Sullivan, senior ecologist at The Wetlands Initiative.
Sullivan said that, while the initiative has worked restoring other native habitats, he believed this work was locally unique.
"This could become a blueprint for restoration work in other stream areas in the Chicago area," he said. "It's not really work that's ever been done before."
While the construction is going on, The Conservation Foundation will work with nearby homeowners to inform them how they can have an environmental effect through a pilot program called Conservation in our Community.
Jan Roehll, the foundation's DuPage County program director, said topics will include planting native vegetation, rain barrel and rain garden use, and home conservation.
"With the climactic changes that we have seen over the last several years, the chance of getting a lot of rainfall in higher intensities is greater," she said. "There are many more communities experiencing flooding because of runoff, and individuals taking action on their own properties can help reduce that impact."