Saturday, October 18, 2014

Army Corps of Engineers: Peoria

Our stop in Peoria brought a lot of activity for us. One of our visits was to the Army Corps of Engineers. Mike, the Director of Operations, and Andrew, the Head of Maintenance, met with us to teach us about the Illinois waterway, the construction of the locks, and the maintenance.

                The main purpose of the Army Corps of Engineers is to maintain the riverway so that traffic up and down the river is possible. Barges, as well as recreational boating, depend on the channel. The channel is a 9ft deep section marked on its sides with red and green buoys. Transporting goods on the river is much cheaper and more efficient than trucking on land. Congress has recognized the importance of the riverway and declared that the channel be maintained so that traffic on the river is possible.

                A huge aspect of making the rivers navigable is the lock and dams. The dams pool the water so it is possible to have it be 9 feet deep all the time. The locks allow safe travel up and down elevation changes. It works just like an elevator. The lock and dams on the Illinois River were all constructed 75 years ago. Each is unique to meet the needs of that area. The last two dams on the Illinois River are wicket dams, two out of the three in existence in the country. Wicket dams are special because when the water is high they lay the walls down. The water levels out and no elevation change exists. The dam can simply be passed over in barges, canoes, kayaks, or any watercraft. The construction of the lock and dams greatly changed the Illinois River’s transportation efficiency.
                Just as roads need maintenance, so do the locks and dams. Every repair is one of a kind and they do it themselves, including building the new parts. The locks and dams were only designed to last for 50 years, so lots of repairs have been popping up. This has increased budget needs as they work to update all of the old systems. A lot of the repairs require a dive team to operate underwater. The water is often murky so they work without seeing what they are doing! A cool fact about the Illinois River is that it is the only one that is open 24/7 every day of the year. This means in the winter they break up the ice so that traffic is possible. I never realized how much it took to make the rivers functional for transportation.

                The visit to the Army Corps of Engineers in Peoria opened my eyes to see the river in a new way. Rivers are important not only for wildlife and as a water source, but also for transportation and commerce.  

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