This is a long post, but I needed to get this done.
Mass of long, stringy, hairlike strands; usually green in color but may become yellow, grayish or brown; individual filaments are a series of cells joined end to end, which give them a thread-like appearance.
Forms greenish mats on the water surface; begins growth along the water’s edges or bottom and rises to the surface as a bubble-filled mass when mature; slimy or cotton-like in appearance; may form hair-like growth on logs, rocks, and other vegetation at river bottom and on the shoreline.
Nuisance growth of filamentous algae may indicate that a river has excessive nutrients (usually phosphorus). Adopting preventative measures such as limiting the flow of nutrients into the river may help reduce the severity of nuisance conditions.
Algae become over-abundant when the water has too much of the nutrients that algae need for growth, a process called nutrient enrichment or eutrophication. Just as nutrient-rich fertilizers help plants grow in our farms and gardens, nutrients in the water cause algae to grow. Most natural unimpaired streams have a healthy balance between nutrients and algae. In developed areas, water pollution causes excessive concentrations of these nutrients (specifically phosphorus and nitrogen) in waterways. Nutrients can come from non-point sources, such as fertilizers, sediment, and natural organic matter in stormwater runoff, or from point sources such as wastewater treatment plant effluent.
Everything that lives in the water, including plants, uses oxygen through the process of respiration, which takes oxygen out of water. In healthy natural streams, water contains plenty of oxygen that is frequently replenished. But when algae become too abundant and the stream biological community becomes unbalanced, oxygen levels can fluctuate. Low dissolved oxygen conditions can occur at night, causing fish and other sensitive organisms to die.
This issue was first brought up when a fisherman was asking about filamentous algae in the South Elgin area. An IDNR fisheries biologist had noticed this too. When I sent the biologist an email about it, I got the following response:
This filamentous algae covers all the rocks below the South Elgin dam. There is no single source of this problem.
I wasn’t referring to South Elgin, but an over abundance of filamentous algae growing in the stretch of the Fox River between Montgomery and Yorkville. I sent him a couple of the pictures you’ll see below. He never responded.
Normally I would agree with him. On a semi-urban river like the Fox, this is to be expected and in the 16 years I’ve been fishing and wading the Fox, this algae does form on the bottom. But in the past two years it has got out of control starting at the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District plant in Montgomery. In the past few months I’ve been mentioning this in the weekly fishing reports that I send to Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun Times. I sent him this the week of June 12th:
On the algae hunt, they have none of it north of Aurora (I had fished from there to Geneva). Nothing out of the ordinary anyway. Stopped at a few spots below Aurora to see if any was floating down stream or building up on the shallow gravel bars. Didn’t see anything. Last place I stopped was Route 30, a few hundred yards up stream of the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District plant that I believe is the source of the problem. Didn’t see anything there either. I hope to wade from Route 30 to the plant soon to see if any of this algae is in this stretch. That will nail it down for me.
I already know something is different about the outflow at the plant. The outflow used to look like a clear water stream. Now it’s choked with weeds and algae. It’s this same algae, only brown and dead for the most part, that is floating down stream from there and piling up on the shallow gravel bars, for miles. I have pictures from this and last year that show all this.
I did notice that below the Yorkville dam there is some of this algae still floating down stream, but not as bad. I’m assuming much of the algae is dropping to the bottom of the river when it hits the slow moving pool above the Yorkville dam.
Last thing I need to do is find the article I recall reading in the last three years that mentioned FMWRD was changing their outflow some how. I can’t recall how. I do remember being told years ago that the chemical make up of the outflow, I’m no chemist so I don’t know how, was different for winter and summer. The assumption being that no one (but me and a few diehards) were out in the river during the winter.
Following are a bunch of pictures taken over the last few years. I tried to find ones taken from the same vantage point in order to show what is going on with the algae. My photo records show that the huge mats of algae started appearing in 2011, which coincides with the article I read about how the chemical make up of the outflow was being changed.
This photo was taken on October 3, 2009 a few yards out from the beginning of the flow. Notice the tree in the background and the gravel bar to the right of the egret.
This next picture was taken on May 27, 2012. Right in the middle of all the green algae would be where the egret was standing.
The next picture was taken on October 9, 2012. It shows the gravel bar where the egret was standing and the tangle of algae that continues down stream.
The outflow of the treatment plant used to be no different than a creek that enters the Fox, much like the mouth of Big Rock Creek. Just like Big Rock, it can be a fish magnet at times. This picture was taken October 19, 2009 and shows the shore where the outflow meanders down the river.
This picture was taken a little further upstream on August 21, 2010. Looks like a nice fishable shoreline.
This picture was taken May 27, 2012 and is how that same shoreline looked for most of 2011 and just about all of this year.
This picture was taken on August 8, 2009, it’s between Oswego and Orchard Road. There is no algae built up around the boulder or any floating in the water. I don’t have a shot of this exact spot from this year, but it looked nothing like this.
This is how the shores along this stretch normally look and have looked for the dozen years I’ve been wading through here. This is also the stretch where I ran my canoe shop in 2005 and 2006, so I know every nook and cranny and how it used to look. Taken on October 18, 2009
On September 13, 2011 I walked across the river from where the boulder above was located. Slogging my way through the algae was brutal. I came across this on the way.
A couple of hundred yards downstream from the boulder, this is how the river looked on September 15, 2011.
This is how that same stretch looked on July 8, 2012. It got much worse in August and September.
Standing in the middle of the river directly out from the Saw Wee Kee canoe launch on September 18, 2009. This area is a set of long shallow riffles that range from knee to ankle deep.
From practically the exact same spot on June 7, 2012.
From the middle of the river toward the Saw Wee Kee canoe launch on June 17, 2010.
Again, from practically the exact same spot on June 7, 2012.
On September 30, 2012 I was driving along the river starting at North Aurora. I decided to stop at a few places to see if the algae was building up further north. I already knew it wasn’t, but I wanted to document it all in one trip. The first photo is a set of shallow riffles at Indian Trail Road, you’ll see there’s no algae. The second photo is at North Avenue on the south end of Aurora. You’ll notice on the exposed gravel bars there is no sign of algae at all. The last photo was taken from the canoe launch at Saw Wee Kee Park. It’s looked like this and worse since May.
Further down stream, no algae.
Still further down stream, algae all over the place as far as you can see.
For the last few years their has been quite a bit of construction work going on at the treatment plant. In April of 2008, this showed up on the fence of the plant near the river.
The sign sits directly across from this ditch, which normally flows crystal clear. It wasn’t on March 27, 2010.
For the last couple of months I’ve been getting email from other anglers asking about what is going on in this stretch of the river. Normally during the fall months, it’s one of the most productive smallmouth bass stretches with 50 fish days not uncommon. That didn’t happen at all this year and there were days where I’ve felt lucky to catch one. The algae floating down the river and adhering to everything has made it virtually unfishable, like this.
Back in June of this year, when I put some of this information on a local fishing forum, I got a note from a fisherman named Erik who apparently works at a treatment plant facility in Elgin. He ran the info past his boss…
Hey Ken – I finally was able to talk to my boss today. She has some ties to the IEPA as well as being very involved with friends of the Fox, so I thought she may know something about the algae issues below that Fox metro discharge.
She says that the EPA is well aware of this. She said they bypass treatment frequently and are discharging lots of nutrients into the river. According to her they have had many discussions about this and the EPA is currently trying to get the regulations for the discharge of nutrients tightened up. She said the EPA would love to hear from you. I was in a bit of a hurry so I forgot to ask for contact info. You may be able to get it online, but if not let me know and I’ll ask.
Another interesting tidbit…she also mentioned that the DNR has been out surveying this year and have noticed a drop in fish population and diversity in the Montgomery/Oswego stretch of river. Coincidence…I think not!
Well, that’s it and that’s enough. I no longer have the time to deal with things like this. The inclination to move this along also seems to have vanished. I go fishing to relax and take in my surroundings. I no longer get involved with issues like this, again, no time. It took a lot of effort to get this as far as I have and the whole time I’ve been typing this I’m questioning why I’m bothering.
I do carry my camera around with me everywhere I go on the river. I take lots of pictures of anything I find interesting. When I take the picture, I have no clue what I’m going to do with it, if anything. I guess this is one of the end results of all that picture taking.
Best I can hope for is that someone else can use this information. Someone else can pass it on to those that can do something about this. I don’t know who those people are and don’t have the time to find out.
I think what finally motivated me to get this far was the comment that “…There is no single source of this problem.” That comment just pissed me off. I sent pictures, all that needed to be done was for someone to go look. Go for a walk in this stretch of the river. Take a canoe trip if you don’t feel like walking. This whole algae issue was as obvious as a punch in the face.
Now, please, someone that can accomplish this, get it taken care of.