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Tour explores Kishwaukee River watershed

Presenters spoke about water management practices, past mistakes to avoid

About 25 people boarded a bus for a tour of key areas in the 78,000-acre watershed extending far beyond Sycamore.

“The more people understand watersheds, the more they’re going to support the decisions that our local elected and appointed officials make trying to do what’s best for the citizens in the community,” said Anita Zurbrugg of the DeKalb County Community Foundation. “By proactively doing this, our county should be much better off.”

The second "Know Your Watershed" tour included six stops on Saturday morning and focused on the East Branch of the South Branch of the Kishwaukee River watershed, an area 78,000 acres in size that extends into Kane County. A watershed is an area of land where all of the water from rain, or snow and ice melting, drains into a single point – in this case Sycamore.

The main speakers for the tour were Dean Johnson of the DeKalb County Soil and Conservation District and Mike Konen, a soil scientist and professor in Northern Illinois University's Department of Geography.  

Presenters taught about the particular challenges of managing storm water in the area, past mistakes to avoid, and best water management practices for farmers, landowners and municipal administrators.

“Several comments we heard is how valuable this [tour] would be for elected and appointed officials who are new to the process to give them a good overview of how so many components of governments and non-profit organizations can work together to accomplish things they can’t do by themselves,” Zurbrugg said.

One of the ideas presented was that agriculture, recreational areas and wetland restoration are much better uses for land in a floodplain than urban development.

“It’s 2014. We know where the floodplains are," Konen said. "To me, it’s just mind-boggling that we still put buildings in floodplains. It’s the dumbest thing in the world.”

Paul Miller, DeKalb County Planning, Zoning and Building Director, narrated the long history of Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park near Sycamore during one of the stops on the tour. Using state and federal grant money, county officials have purchased the trailer park and plan to restore it to open space. The mobile home park, which lies in the floodplain, has flooded repeatedly in the past five years or so.

One of the goals of the watershed planning project is to prevent expensive disasters like Evergreen Village from happening again.

Nathan Dettman of DeKalb went on the tour because he has a great interest in nature, and because he is curious about the agricultural aspect of the watershed. He was surprised to learn how many people in the area know a lot about conservation topics such as native plants and how our water systems work.

“I thought the tour was really, really good," Dettman said. "[It was] very educational. Even though I’ve lived in the area, off and on, for a while, I still learned a lot. I would go again.”

The Draft Union/Virgil Ditches and East Branch Kishwaukee River Watershed Plan will be presented for the final time for public input and to address questions from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Gathertorium, 200 N. Main Street in Sycamore.

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