Tag Archives: treatment plant

Fox River Scum

After a few weeks of going through a lack of interest in fishing the Fox River, I didn’t think I’d wind up spending three hours chasing down the source of Fox River scum.

I really did want to go fishing.

Thought I would go hit Saw Wee Kee. Crossing the river on the Orchard Road bridge, I sized up the river real quick and didn’t like what I saw.

Up close and personal it got even worse.

It looks like a giant plugged up swirling toilet bowl covered in floating shit.

The shore under the bridge:


As I drove drove the road along the river, I stopped to talk to a couple that lives in one of the houses along this stretch. They said this had appeared a couple of days earlier. They also mentioned that it was here last year, but we all agreed this was considerably worse then last year. They live on one of the best spots for smallies, but the guy said he won’t throw a lure in that.

A few more shots of the stretch between Orchard Road and the Saw Wee Kee canoe launch. It’s about a mile:

Did I mention I just wanted to go fishing?

After seeing this, the old Boy Scout in me, the one I’ve been trying to kill off for years because he can’t just walk away from shit like this, decided to wander up stream to see if he could find the source of the problem.

I had no choice but to tag along.

These two shots were taken in Oswego:



About another mile up stream in Oswego. I think it’s called Troy Park. I noticed far fewer shit balls here:


A little further up stream at Violet Patch Park, took a quick shot of a couple of kayakers floating down the river. I felt sorry for them:


Mainly because just to their right, all along the west shore, they had this to enjoy:


Looking up stream form the same vantage point. Under the bridge where I’m standing are riffles. Things seem to get worse when the scum gets churned up in the riffles:


The upstream side of the Fox Metro plant. After this, didn’t seem to matter to go check the outflow:


The Route 30 bridge is the one I was curious about. Last year when I traced this problem back, I stopped here because it seemed to dissipate at this point. This shot is of the east channel. Doesn’t look that bad. I live nearby and the night before I was sitting on the east shore watching the sun set and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary:


I wandered over to the west side and that’s where it got odd. Can’t tell if this is light reflecting off the scum, which covered the whole west channel for as far as you could see, or if it was some kind of film:


The next couple of shots, you can see the scum that covered the whole west channel:



Down the street from where I live in Montgomery, didn’t look too bad:


North Avenue on the south edge of Aurora. Still there, but it wasn’t looking as bad:


This next one caught me by surprise. Right at the North Aurora dam looking up stream along the west shore. Upstream is the Mooseheart shit plant with a small outflow. It’s at the mouth of Mill Creek. Would have added an hour to get there to look, it’s a hike in, and I was running out of time:


Last two shots are from Batavia. You can see some scum, but nothing like further down stream. There is a certain amount of this I’m used to. It’s an urban river and I’ve seen it at all kinds of stages year round for 20 years. Still wouldn’t call this normal, but it’s closer:



The next few shots is what I documented last year and never did anything with. I had already been standing in it while fishing and this shit was a bitch to get off my waders. While wandering around down around Millbrook, I came across a bunch of it and tracked it back to Route 30 when I gave up. It didn’t look too bad at that point. I thought this was bad last year. It pales in comparison to what is going on right now:

I have no clue if this has anything to do with the scum, but the last couple of years they rebuilt and expanded Route 30 on both sides of the river. For miles on the east side. I know they installed all new drainage/sewer pipes, I saw them lining the road last year. I wanted to blame last year’s event on that.

This year in Aurora on Route 31, they rebuilt 31 for a few blocks. I read they were replacing sewer lines to solve combined sewer issues.

Those both could be incidental to all of this. I’ll never know.

Consider this Source

This is a long post, but I needed to get this done.

Filamentous Algae

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.

No algae.

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.

Fischen Scheiße Nebenfluss

At least that’s how a website translated the title into German. I have no clue if it’s correct, but I like the way it sounds.

The majority of the day was spent meeting deadlines. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Me working from home and them sitting at the corporate headquarters of a major company in some northern Illinois suburb.

I knew we’d be done by 3 PM. It was the Friday before a holiday weekend. Nobody that works for a major corporation would stay till the end of the day right before a 3 day weekend. If they had bothered working at all.

Sure enough, at 3 PM we were done, bye, have a great weekend.

May as well go fishing now.

The rain of the past couple of days was substantial. My preference was to go fish a creek, but I already knew they were all blown out. I went out of my way to verify this while on my way to a Fox River high water spot. Sure enough, high, fast, muddy and not even worth going near. I had no choice but to employ high water fishing techniques on the river, which I’ve come to despise.

High water fishing reminds me of bank angling. Can’t stand doing that. I feel like an idiot standing on shore and fishing. Luckily I know the areas I fish well enough that I can still walk around in the water a bit even when it’s high. Up to a point. One incident of almost getting sucked under a log jam has me a bit leery, so now I keep a respectful distance from log jams.

Easy enough though, cast out to current seams, bring your lure in keeping it tight to shore (at your feet) and wait for a hit. Watched the first fish of the day hit a couple of times before I was able to hook it. I offered it up to the fishing gods, but they said it was too small.

Not for me.

The next one was a little better. The gods were pleased and spirited it away.

I wound up catching a half dozen of them. This time of year between the spawn and some pretty aggressive eating habits, the fish can start to look pretty beat up. Every one of them had something going on with their heads. Scratches, raw open wounds and most had fins that looked like they had been chewed on.

There was one stretch where I wasn’t comfortable being in the water. When that happens and I wind up on shore, I get easily distracted by my surroundings and go wandering off to find things to photograph, interesting or not.

I thought they were interesting at the time.

Then I would go back to fishing. In case you never noticed, in the pictures I take I try to show the cover or structure where the fish hit. I think this one is pretty obvious.

I’ve noticed that the big floodplain along this stretch is getting used more. So far the trash that comes along with use, especially the mountains of beer cans, has been concentrated in one area. But off in the woods someone is doing some exploring. Or just bored. Or building themselves someplace to live. I’ve built bonfires out of railroad ties that were bigger than this.

Eventually I got bored with the fishing and wandered around the floodplain. Sections of it were covered in phlox. Pretty much the last of the wild flowers that I could find. I could smell them before I could see them.

There were a few other flowering bushes in the area and it smelled like perfume in the air. At the house my ex now owns and my kids get to enjoy, I landscaped all around the house to take advantage of this spring perfume. Outside the kitchen window I planted a lilac bush. Under other windows I planted a variety of wild flowers, phlox being the most predominant. It’s scent seems to carry the furthest. In the spring, the house would smell wonderful.

I was going to hit another high water spot on the way home where I’ve been having a fair amount of success, but decided to just go home instead. Saturday will be another day. The creeks will be blown out, the river will be high. I’ll need to go out fishing, but I can’t do that again.

Instead I’ve decided to test my limits. I’ll be heading to a crystal clear lake that gets a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. I’ll walk the shores and fish, and I’ll catch fish. I know I will.

Maybe I’ll bring a lawn chair. A six pack of cheap beer. Throw the cans around when I’m done. Leave a worm container laying on the ground when I leave. A massive tangle of fishing line or two.

Nah, I’d have to have a lobotomy in order to behave like that.

But it will be a nice test. I know I’ll catch fish and then I won’t do it again till next spring.

Fishing like that once a year is more than enough.

More than that would require a lobotomy.

Well, at least I didn’t get skunked.

One of the drawbacks to keeping all of your fishing gear scattered throughout your SUV for 8 to 9 months out of the year is that when you go to pick up one of your daughters, the first comment out of their mouths is usually “Oh my God, DAD.”

That’s usually followed by an endless comparison of the smell to a variety of dead things. I’m sure the aroma of cheap cigars adhering to the interior doesn’t help. Besides all the tackle I’ll ever need, I carry around everything a wading and walking angler needs.

For the walking, I have a pair of waterproof boots that I wear when I’m working in my back yard. The grooves in the bottom are impacted with mud and dog shit. The dogs came with the woman I married. They aren’t my dogs and I’m certainly not going to walk around a yard picking up handfuls of their crap. Eventually the mud and crap will go away as I trudge through enough puddles and grass surrounding lakes and ponds. They sit on the floor in the back seat, an appropriate amount of newspaper under them so the carpet is semi protected.

For the wading there are a couple of pairs of long johns, you never know how cold the water will be. A couple of thick socks for the same purpose. Every now and then they get taken out and washed, but it’s rare.

Of course there are the breathable waders and the wading boots. Why let them sit around outside drying when they can dry out in the SUV, eventually. A ratty sweatshirt or two and a coat only used when out fishing. Somewhere in the SUV are 3 pairs of fingerless gloves. Air temperature dictates which pair gets used on any given day. I think I wash them once a year, if I remember.

All of the above items are covered with layers of fish slime from a wide variety of species. Catfish and carp are the most insidious of the fish slimes. Once you let it dry, it’s like having freeze dried slime. Get a little water on it and it’s as good as new, stench and all.

To cover all this equipment I have a 6 foot by 8 foot, thick cotton throw rug. I also use it to throw on the ground when changing in and out of my waders. Keeps rocks from puncturing the neoprene booties, but it also protects me form the goose shit that seems to be everywhere. It also absorbs all of the river smells as I stand on it still dripping wet from some wading. Once a year I try to remember to take it out, hang it over a fence and hose it down. My wife won’t allow it in the house. Then there’s an identical rug on the bottom of the pile to protect the carpeting. It absorbs everything. That gets a good hosing now and then too.

The obvious benefit to having all of this in your SUV is that at any given moment, you can go fishing. Driving past a pond, along a creek or crossing a bridge over a river, the only thing keeping you from fishing is finding a place to pull over.

I think the stench of a well seasoned SUV is a small price to pay for endless possibilities.

I took advantage of one of those possibilities today as I passed the river at the end of the day. When I won’t step in the water, you know it’s high. Even standing shin deep in water on the shore was making me a little nervous. Carp swimming around on shore, at your feet, will do that to you. I was certain I knew where the beginning of the 3 foot tall undercut bank began, but I was suddenly not that certain.

I did what I could for an hour before I gave up. But, like the title says, at least I didn’t get skunked.

Okay fine, a bit of an exaggeration. My daughter sent it to me today. I told her this was still another good reason to never go swimming in the ocean.

It does resemble me a bit, think 30 years ago.

Fine, here’s the more realistic pictures from today.

Kiss me, baby.

If I actually tried fishing for these, I would probably stop catching them.