Kankakee Watershed Conf logo


By Frank Koehler

The Illinois Paddling Council was a proud sponsor of the recently held Kankakee River Watershed Conference. IPC Board Member and Potawatomi Paddlers Association President, Frank Koehler was a co-chair of the conference, and James Tracy, IPC Board secretary, was a panelist.

More than 160 people attended the one-day conference held on Friday, March 10th, 2023 on the Kankakee Community College campus. Issues that were discussed included water quality and quantity, biodiversity, nutrients and agriculture, river recreation, watershed initiatives, and the impact of accumulating sand and sediment in the waterways. Attendees heard from representatives from Aqua Illinois (which provides potable drinking water to the communities of Kankakee-Bradley-Bourbonnais), the regional waste water treatment plant facility, IDNR and the Kankakee River State Park, Cities of Kankakee and Wilmington, Will County Forest Preserve District, State of Illinois and area Farm Bureaus, among others.

Of critical importance and impact on the watershed is the accumulation of sand and sediment in the waterway. Notwithstanding normal erosion, sand and sediment is largely attributable to the State of Indiana, and its straightening of the Kankakee River in the early 1920’s, and the drainage of the Kankakee Marsh in the late 1800’s. For more information on the marsh, readers should watch the movie “Everglades of the North.” 

In recent years, the State of Indiana has enacted legislation creating the Kankakee River and Yellow River Basin Commissions. These tax-supported organizations, of which both the Kankakee County Board Chairman and Iroquois County Board Chairman are non-voting members, have undertaken a myriad of initiatives, including stabilization of river banks, removal of fallen trees, reconstruction of marshlands, development of storm water run-off ponds and other improvements which have significantly reduced the volume of sand and sediment in the waterway. It is thought that the Indiana legislation could serve as a model for similar legislation in Illinois, to facilitate addressing issues within area waterways.

Concurrently, Kankakee County, utilizing federal and state funding, is looking to begin sand and sediment removal near the confluence of the Iroquois and Kankakee Rivers, which has impeded boat access to the river, including limiting access of emergency rescue boats. The Will County Forest Preserve District is undertaking sand and sediment removal in the Braidwood area as well.

The Kankakee River runs from its origin near South Bend, Indiana, to the confluence with Des Plaines River near Channahon, Illinois, where it forms the Illinois River. In 2016, the Kankakee River was designated a National Water Trail, one of only 3 rivers in the county with that designation. The Kankakee River is also recognized as one of the cleanest rivers in Illinois.

Flowing for a total of 59 miles in Illinois, the Kankakee River contains three dams and twelve larger tributary streams, including the Iroquois River. The Kankakee River is predominantly a clear shallow stream with gravel-rubble riffles, sand bottom pools and marsh areas along the upper portion. Larger pools are formed by dams at Momence, Kankakee, and Wilmington, as well as by the Dresden Lock and Dam on the headwaters of the Illinois. The Kankakee River is one the highest quality streams in the state, offering excellent sportfishing and recreational opportunities. 

A Youtube video of the all-day conference will be available in the near future on IPC’s webpage as well as the webpage of the Potawatomi Paddlers Association.