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Is Fawell Dam really a problem?

August 18, 2010

The August 2 Village Board Meeting brought up many concerns experienced by residents, including issues with fire/police response and concerns regarding the county’s delayed report on flooding in the village. However, one of the most talked about issues in the meeting referred to a flood control mechanism known as Fawell Dam. This blog post will look at Fawell Dam and what impact it might have on Carol Stream.

The Flood of 1996

Fawell Dam is a dam located on the West Branch of the DuPage River between the cities of Naperville and Warrenville. The dam was built in 1972 by DNR, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. By the late 1980s, however, vandals had broken the dam and rendered it inoperable, leaving the gates permanently wide open. (The Sun)

However, on July 17-18, 1996, a slow-moving storm shattered the 24-hour rainfall record in Illinois, dropping a total of 16.9″ of rain on Aurora. A huge torrent of water massively flooded downtown Naperville, where the W. Branch DuPage River crested at 14.31 feet, 4.42 feet above the previous record crest. Over 7,500 homes in Naperville alone suffered flood damage. (NYT)

After the flood waters receded, the county rebuilt the dam, and it functions today to hold back large releases of water from entering downtown Naperville. Naturally, this leads to concerns in upstream communities that the dam is holding back water from Naperville at the expense of other communities.

Fawell Dam

Fawell Dam is located near the corner of U.S. Route 34 (Ogden Avenue) and Raymond Street in Naperville. (Google Maps) Water in Klein Creek must travel about 2.5 miles downstream from Thunderbird Trail to the W. Branch DuPage River, an additional 8.8 miles to I-88, then an additional 2 miles, for a total of 13.5 miles, before reaching the dam. Across this distance, there is also a vertical drop of approximately 35-40 feet. (Thunderbird Trail is approximately 742′ in elevation.) According to the county, Fawell Dam gates open when water pooled behind the dam reaches 679′ in elevation. At times, water behind the dam has reached a height of 688′ in elevation.

The question is this: Fawell Dam is, at best, a full 54 feet below the elevation and 13.5 miles away from most properties in Carol Stream. Does this dam have anything to do with the flood problems Carol Stream is experiencing?

This seems unlikely. The flood pool of the dam would have to cover the village of Warrenville (among many, many other cities) to a depth of 50 feet before it approached Carol Stream.

I’ve asked a few engineers to comment on the situation, but haven’t heard of them. If/when I do hear from them, I’ll post their responses here.

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