The Village of Waterford and the Fox River Citizens Group are asking anyone who enjoys the Fox River for fishing, paddling and other recreation to contact the DNR and legislators to stop draw downs of the Fox River.

The Fox River has been drawn down each year for the past two years. The Racine County Farm Drainage District is entering the third year of a multi-year permit to dredge the Wind Lake drainage canal. Although the district has a permit to dredge, an additional permit is needed to draw down. The DNR is reviewing a request to fully draw down the river from October to March this year.

The drainage district is also seeking a “forever” permit to permanently draw down the river every winter, claiming it will address erosion of canal banks and potential flooding.

The Village of Waterford and a citizen’s group are firmly and adamantly opposed to any draw down of the river. There are numerous reasons:

  • An environment impact study of the river with the repeated draw downs has never been done. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this prime game fishing area is being decimated, confirmed by a DNR fish biologist. Studies also indicate that phosphorus levels rise when a river is drawn down.
  • The current dredging method uses heavy construction equipment to remove silt and deposit along the bank. The district claims that a river drawdown is necessary because frozen ground is needed to support the equipment. Opposition group research indicates that hydraulic dredging, using a vacuum, is more efficient and cost effective and can be done without drawing down the river.
  • There is not data to support the district claims that the Forever drawdown will prevent canal bank erosion and flooding. According to the Drainage Board Handbook, the district “must establish and maintain a corridor along both sides of every district ditch…extend[ing] a minimum of 20 feet from the top of the district ditch bank…..” Further, “No person may row crop within the district corridor unless they have written permission from the [district].” Crops are planted right up to canal banks and are likely causing erosion. It should be controlled here, rather than through a forever drawdown. 
  • Wis §30.275, Scenic Urban Waterways, designated the Fox River as a scenic urban waterway. The legislation states that the DNR will “collaborate with municipal governing bodies … in producing a mutually acceptable program for the preservation, protection, and enhancement of the rivers…” Further, “grants awarded…for the purpose of economic revitalization and encouraging recreation activities ….,” illustrating that the department must place emphasis on the Fox River for purposes of economic development for recreational activities including fishing, enjoying wildlife, and paddling.
  • The village is on the Fox River Water Trail core development team, working with organizations in Illinois, with assistance from the National Park Service. More than $700,000 has been invested by the village, county, and state to enhance the riverfront through parks, canoe/kayak launches, stream-bank stabilization, and design projects. The water trail is an economic driver for communities and counties along the river and will be severely impacted by six month draw downs every year.
  • Paddlers and fishing enthusiasts lose use of the river for over half the year through the draw downs. Not only is the loss of use evident for these six months, but the devastation of the fishery impacts the river for the entire year and beyond.
  • Some estimates see riparian property values dropping by as much as 35 percent. This will impact every property owner in the community as tax levies are adjusted and non-riparian owners pay more to compensate.
  • Rochester and Waterford rely on the river for fighting major fires. In a January 2015 fire, the department drew water from the river and was able to protect surrounding properties. Fire departments fear that draw downs will hamper their ability to fight fires.

Please contact the DNR immediately and urge denial of the permit request for this year, which will begin by Oct. 15, and the Forever draw down permit. Contact your legislators and ask that they oppose both draw down requests and that they consider legislation to protect the river from devastating drawdowns in the future.

For more information, including where to send letters, go to www.waterfordwi.org/drawdown.

Fred Koller is a member of the Fox River Citizen Group, which opposes draw downs of the Fox River.

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