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Tour highlights DeKalb County watersheds

DeKALB – Anita Zurbrugg wants to help people understand that whether they’re using a hose to water their lawn or using chemicals to fertilize it, their actions can have an effect beyond their back yard.

That’s why Zurbrugg, the program director for the DeKalb County Community Foundation, said it’s important for county residents to learn about watersheds.

“If we know our watershed, we know better how what we do impacts watersheds below us,” she said. 

A tour of the watersheds, wetlands and stream banks in the county was given Thursday by officials with the DeKalb County Stormwater Management Planning Committee and DeKalb County Community Foundation. The tour was a collaborative effort between the community foundation, the Kishwaukee Watershed Steering Committee, and the county Soil and Water Conservation District.

An area of land where all the water that runs off the surface or flows underground goes to the same place is said to be part of a watershed. There are two main watersheds in the county: the Kishwaukee River watershed in the north and the Fox River watershed in the south.

The stormwater management committee has been working with the community foundation since 2009 to find ways to address flooding and stormwater issues throughout the county. The committee and community foundation are taking a “watershed-based” approach to flooding in the area. 

Such an approach assesses the existing conditions within a watershed and identifies problem areas. That’s different from the traditional approach, which generally follows political boundaries rather than natural ones.

For example, many stormwater ordinances are based on county boundaries, said Dean Johnson, resource conservationist at the conservation district.

“Well you can see that doesn’t work in this situation,” he said. “The [watershed] boundaries go well beyond DeKalb County.”

During the tour, attendees were able to see how the Sycamore Park District has helped maintain one of its nine ponds. After stopping off at a subdivision near Mount Hunger Road and Kelly Lane in Sycamore, attendees were shown the pond adjacent to the Kishwaukee River.

Dan Gibble, Sycamore Park District executive director, said instead of using stormwater drains near the pond, they use rain gardens that have wetland species. A rain garden allows the water to slowly filter into the ground rather than funneling through storm sewers. 

“It was one of those things we took on responsibility for,” Gibble said.

Attendees also were able to meet with students and faculty from Northern Illinois University and Sycamore High School who are working on gathering data on rivers in parts of the county. The research gathered by the students and faculty would be used to help look for solutions for water management issues in the county. 

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