Fisheries Management

PEORIA, Ill. — Bass are swimming in deeper water these days in Peoria Lake, thanks to an innovative solution to a siltation problem that has long plagued this Illinois River fishery.

Earlier this year, 70 barges removed more than 100,000 tons of mud from the lake bottom, transporting it 165 miles upstream to Lake Michigan. There, it was used to cover up 573 acres of land glazed over by slag, the byproduct left behind by a steel mill. Grass now is growing on the soil that was deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as developers move ahead with plans for parks, businesses and homes.

"There was no real epiphany moment," said Dr. John Marlin, a scientist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who came up with the idea to benefit both cities.

"I just started looking at maps and thinking about it."

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley added, "We needed good quality soil, and basically this solves two environmental problems, one urban and one rural."

The rural "problem" was that Peoria Lake was smothering in runoff sediment from upstream farm lands. Once 6 to 8 feet deep, the lake had withered to less than a foot in many areas, with several feet of soft mud on the bottom. Bass and other fish were forced out into the river and waterfowl populations declined by 90 percent.

"We've waffled in the past as to whether our marina could even stay viable because of the expense of dredging," said Brad Smith, executive director of the Fon du Lac Park District. "This gives us somewhere to take the stuff."

And much of the cost of transporting the mud upstream was covered by a $2 million grant from the state.

Marlin now hopes that he can find other places that need mud, since Peoria Lake still has plenty to give. The scientist estimates that the lake contains enough extra mud to fill a football field that reaches 10 miles high.