The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District manages an extensive ecosystem restoration program that restores and protects over 2,600 acres of streams, lakes and wetlands and opens up over 58 miles of free-flowing river. Completed projects and those currently in construction provide essential habitat for fish and wildlife, and extensive value to the public.
Ecosystem restoration efforts encompass a comprehensive examination of problems contributing to system degradation and the development of plans for their restoration.
The district is currently working on four projects that will protect and restore an additional 90 acres of habitat. These projects may be awarded for construction during Fiscal Year 2013.
Twenty studies are also underway, which will add additional habitat, if implemented. The studies are authorized by different authorities within the Energy and Water Appropriations Act or the Water Resources and Development Act, such as the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program; they are federally funded primarily through the Corps' Energy and Water (E&W) appropriations or through U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) appropriations.
The goal of GLFER is to plan, design and construct projects that restore the fishery, ecosystem and beneficial uses of the Great Lakes to include removing a variety of invasive species, restoring rare dune and swale habitat, increasing species richness of numerous habitat types, removing unnecessary barriers in Great Lakes tributaries, creating fish-passage facilities and providing migratory bird resting and feeding areas.
Red Mill Pond was the first project authorized through GLFER and has been widely recognized as a success story for the program. The project team was recognized with the USEPA and Chicago Wilderness 2012 Conservation and Native Landscaping Award and the Daniel Flaherty Park Excellence Award for innovation, cost-effective design, the use of community input and resources and providing a significant impact on the community.
With construction completed in fall 2011, in cooperation with local sponsor LaPorte County Parks and Recreation Board, Red Mill Pond protects and has restored 160 acres of wetlands, including a 108-acre Indiana State Nature Preserve. A section of earthen dam was removed at an emergency spillway to restore natural stream flow, and a new channel was sculpted from the pond to the Little Calumet River. The area ecosystem had been reliant on this deteriorating dam since its construction in 1833. Dam failure would have disrupted the site's ecology, welcoming invasive species and threatening seven native endangered plant species.
GLRI is referred to as the "largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades" with urgent funding areas to focus on cleaning up toxics and areas of concern; combating invasive species; promoting near-shore health by protecting watersheds from polluted run-off; and restoring wetlands and other habitats.
"The benefits of these programs and funding sources are numerous," said Gene Fleming, chief, Chicago District Environmental Formulation and Analysis section. "They have made a significant contribution to the restoration of the Great Lakes Basin and the migratory bird flyway."
One example of the restoration efforts is at the Orland Perimeter, which has seen 30 new species of birds observed since wetland reestablishment began on the 275-acre, GLRI-funded construction project currently underway. Adjacent to the district's Orland Tract project -- a combined 950 acres of land in Orland Park, Ill. -- 50 acres of seasonal and year-round wetlands have been restored after disabling over 62,000 feet of agricultural drainage tile, removing invasive species and planting native species. The work has been accomplished with the efforts of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the local sponsor for both of these projects.
"This project offers substantial benefits to local wildlife," said Kirston Buczak, project manager. "Twenty-one species of butterflies, which is the highest number ever seen in a similar grassland habitat, and native species of a globally rare plant community will thrive after restoration."
Audubon Society bird census numbers show Orland Tract attracts the largest abundance of birds in the region.
Of course, the Great Lakes fisheries cannot be discussed without mentioning the invasive Asian carp.
To date, the Corps has received approximately $31 million in GLRI funds to support the interagency Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. The committee's mission is to prevent an Asian carp establishment in the Great Lakes via all potential viable pathways, in order to maintain the integrity and safety of the Great Lakes ecosystem, and to prevent the establishment of other species that threaten the food web of the largest freshwater system on earth.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study Team has benefited from GLRI funding, as well, and a report outlining controls to prevent the interbasin transfer of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins is due to Congress in December 2013.
"Without authority and funding, we can't perform our missions, including sustaining our water resources," said Col. Frederic A. Drummond Jr., commander of the Chicago District. "Resources like the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration program and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding allow us to protect and restore our natural treasures, from the smallest wetlands to our Great Lakes."