ISWS Study Findings Reflect Impairment of the Fox River in Northern Illinois, Illinois State Water Survey

ISWS Press Release

For Immediate Release September 28, 2009
ISWS Study Findings Reflect Impairment of the Fox River in Northern Illinois
Alena Bartosova - (217) 244-6166,
Lisa Sheppard - (217) 244-7270,

When the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) designated the entire Fox River in McHenry and Kane Counties as impaired, the Fox River Study Group ( formed collaborations to preserve and enhance the river’s overall health.  The organization funded the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to conduct a multi-year, four-phase study that examines the Fox River watershed below Stratton Dam.

Recent study results highlight the river reaches that show impairment.

Potential causes of river and stream deterioration identified by the IEPA include flow alterations, habitat changes, dissolved oxygen, excess algal growth, and fecal coliform bacteria, according to Alena Bartosova, scientist at the ISWS, who leads the research. 

Bartosova explained that one way to evaluate the overall health of a water body is to study the fish species living there.  Certain changes in the number of fish species and populations over time are a good indicator that the river is deteriorating.

ISWS study findings showed that impounded reaches in the upper, more urbanized part of the Fox River had a fewer number of fish caught, a fewer variety of species, and fewer specialized feeders than other parts of the river.

"These factors indicate that these sites are more impaired than free-flowing sites and those in the lower part of the watershed," Bartosova said.  "Often, a shift from specialist groups to generalist species or omnivores occurs as water quality decreases and habitat deteriorates."

Evaluation of biological data was one of the activities accomplished within the Fox River Watershed Investigation, together with a compilation of environmental and geospatial data, development of watershed and water quality models, and focused monitoring. This integrated research approach was significantly strengthened by the close interaction among ISWS researchers and stakeholders represented by the Fox River Study Group.

ISWS plans to continue this integrated research on the Fox River. An intensive data collection effort designed specifically to calibrate the models and bridge data gaps is underway and will set this research apart from similar modeling studies, Bartosova explained.

Routine water quality data, though very valuable in model development, often do not provide the level of detail needed to accurately simulate complex processes affecting diurnal changes in dissolved oxygen or daily loads of pollutants. Preliminary model development using existing data has been completed and will be finalized in Phase 3 once sufficient data are collected.

ISWS researchers developed a suite of computer models that can be used to forecast impacts associated with various future scenarios and reveal feasible river management options.

"We will use the model to run seven to nine different hypothesized scenarios that take into account numerous factors such as changing land uses, urban development practices, and modifying discharges to the river and streams from various facilities," Bartosova said.  "The Fox River Study Group will ultimately use the outcomes to help planning efforts and to develop recommendations."

The Fox River Study Group is a coalition of various cities, villages, organizations, and government agencies working together to assess water quality in the Fox River watershed. For more information about the project, visit the Web site, An update on the work completed by the ISWS will be presented at the Fox River Study Group’s annual public meeting, scheduled for October 29 starting at 10 AM in the Council Chambers of Batavia City.

The Illinois State Water Survey ( is a division of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.                                             

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