Col. Kimberly Peeples, commander of the Great Lakes & Ohio River Division (LRD), visited the Chicago District for the first time last week, one of seven districts under LRD. The three-day itinerary included meetings with stakeholders, briefings at several project sites, and recognition of several district team members. Peeples assumed command of LRD on June 11, 2021.
“The Chicago District was honored to host Col. Peeples last week,” Chicago District Commander Col. Paul Culberson said. “It was an opportunity for her to not only meet, but also recognize, our tremendous workforce for their accomplishments. She was able to visit numerous project sites and spend time with many federal and city officials to thank them for their strong partnership.”
The team’s first project visit was at T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, located at the entrance to Lake Michigan (river mile 326.0), at Calumet River in Chicago, Illinois. Project Manager Jeff Zuercher reported that his team is eager to refine the scope of the project that can be completed with Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds and will continue to seek any further funding needed to keep the 60-year-old lock and dam operating.
“Proposed activities for fiscal year 2022 include awarding an A-E contract to conduct engineering and design work to rehabilitate and repair critical components to improve overall project reliability and reduce the risk of unplanned outages and impacts to navigation on the Illinois Waterway,” Zuercher said.
Next stop included a tour of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s (MWRD) Mainstream Pumping Station (MSPS). The MSPS pumps out of the mainstream and Des Plaines tunnels, and the McCook Reservoir – three major components of the regional Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) – a system of deep, large-diameter tunnels and vast reservoirs designed to reduce flooding, improve water quality in Chicago area waterways, and protect Lake Michigan from pollution caused by sewer overflows. The Chicago District has been involved in this project, one of the country’s largest public works projects for pollution and flood control, since planning began in the 1970s.
There are four TARP tunnel systems that capture and convey combined sewage and stormwater to the Majewski Reservoir, Thornton Composite Reservoir, and McCook Reservoir (Stage I). The system will have a combined sewage capacity of 17.5 billion gallons when Stage 2 of McCook Reservoir is completed in 2029.
MWRD, the project’s local sponsor, started the project briefing at the MSPS using interactive displays that illustrate the problems of urban flooding and combined sewer overflows that TARP is designed to alleviate. USACE Project Manager Mike Padilla concluded the tour across the river at the McCook Reservoir.
“The McCook Reservoir project currently involves construction of a 10-billion-gallon reservoir divided into two stages.” Padilla explained. “The reservoir is being constructed in MWRD’s existing solids processing lagoons site. Major components include distribution and main tunnels; dewatering pumps; gates; valves; hydraulic structures; aquifer protection; and an aeration system. Stage 1 of the reservoir was completed in 2017, and MWRD will complete Stage 2 in 2029 under the Section 1043 Program that provides the federal cost share of the project directly to local sponsors that have the capability to construct large projects.”
“It was a pleasure to meet with Col. Kimberly Peeples, Col. Paul Culberson, Deputy District Engineer Steve Fischer, and others from the Army Corps and MWRD at the mainstream pumping station and McCook Reservoir to see how TARP has allowed us to protect Chicago and surrounding communities from flooding and improve area water quality by capturing more wastewater for treatment,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “As the local sponsor, the MWRD appreciates our federal partner leveraging our shared interests in protecting the water environment. We look forward to completing the McCook Reservoir and continuing our combined efforts to build a resilient Chicagoland.”
Another stop also included the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Aquatic Nuisance Species Dispersal Barriers. Dispersal barriers were constructed to generate an in-water electric field to prevent the spread of invasive fish species between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. A demonstration dispersal barrier (Barrier I) has been operating since 2002. A more permanent dispersal barrier was constructed in two segments, Barriers IIA and IIB, which began full-time operation in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
“Construction of permanent Barrier I is 50 percent complete with the north electrode array online and operating,” Zuercher said. “The second (south) array was awarded in September 2021 and is expected to be completed in June 2023.”
He added that we are also continuing to work on improving the efficacy of the barriers by evaluating the most effective operating parameters for various sized fish through research efforts at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“In addition, ongoing Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study work and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds continue to help us look at other deterrents that could be used alongside the barriers to provide an even more robust system,” he added.
Day three included a tour of Burnham Park and Morgan Shoal, components of the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project. Project sponsors are the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.
“USACE is overseeing the nonfederal sponsors’ efforts to design the Morgan Shoal segment of the project by participating in the design team and performing environmental compliance activities for the project,” Padilla said. “The design work is expected to be completed in FY23, with a construction contract also scheduled for award in FY23.”
The group also visited La Rabida Children’s Hospital, a facility that suffered storm damage from the record high lake levels in 2019-2020. Padilla explained that La Rabida will be part of the upcoming Chicago Shoreline General Re-evaluation Report (GRR) Study.
“The GRR was fully funded under the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) legislation,” he said. “The partners will cost share the $3,000,000, three-year study to evaluate additional measures to protect the Chicago Shoreline from erosion and storm damages. The study will begin as soon as IIJA funds are allocated to accounts in the next month or so.”
A final tour included a visit to the district’s Calumet Area Office in Indiana where Col. Peeples was briefed about the team’s ongoing construction contracts in their area of responsibility – located in the southern half of the Chicago District’s working area.
Area Engineer Brian Kootstra and his staff of 12 are currently working on 30 active construction contracts. Its major areas of work include dredging and harbor maintenance of Calumet, Indiana, Burns, and Michigan City harbors; ongoing retreat channel repairs at Salamonie and Mississinewa dams; and a robust Section 219 Environmental Infrastructure program, with five new projects starting soon.
“What an amazing week," Col. Peeples said. “I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, grateful for the opportunity to meet so many teammates, reward excellence, and see first-hand the district’s technical expertise in action! Chicago District is strong and mighty – growing every day – and delivering for our nation. I’m proud of the team and look forward to the next!”
The Chicago District is responsible for water resources development in the Chicago metropolitan area, upper Illinois River watershed, Lake Michigan watershed in Wisconsin, and the upper Wabash River watershed in Indiana. For more information about our projects and more, go to https://www.lrc.usace.army.mil.