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June 26, 2011

Waltonville Lake levee breached

WALTONVILLE — Residents of the village were awakened Sunday morning to a levee breach at the Waltonville Lake, which prompted the closing of Illinois 148, followed by a deliberate breach in the levee to drain the water on Sunday afternoon.

Illinois Route 148 was closed to traffic until late afternoon due to flooding concerns.

The breach happened between 7:30 to 8 a.m. Sunday morning. According to resident Ray Gilbert, whose home is across from where the levee breached, the water and mud came “boiling” out of the hole.

“It got up a few inches over the road,” Gilbert said during the morning hours after the breach. “It was really pouring out then, and it’s still pouring out now.”

Waltonville Mayor Randy Dees said Waltonville Fire Protection District, the Secretary of State Police, Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Transportation and Elk Prairie Township all responded quickly to the scene. Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency was also notified.

“On the lake side, the hole is low and going lower all the time,” Dees said Sunday morning. “From the inside, it’s much wider than where it came through on the road side and it’s getting bigger.”

Dees said he and four village trustees met about 2 p.m. with IDOT District 9 Engineer Keith Smiley, and Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Steve Lueker.

“Steve was able to contact Paul Mauer, the head of state dams in Illinois and he came down from Morton,” Dees said. “He drove three hours down here and after looking things over, let us know we could open the dam and drain the lake. We didn’t have to continue waiting to get ahold of someone with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was a blessing he came.”

According to information from IDOT, the hole was about 8 feet in diameter when the decision was made to take a backhoe and drain the water out of the lake. At about 3 p.m., crews first removed dirt above the initial breach then went to the corner of the lake where it meets with Illinois Route 148 for a second intentional breach, which forced the current into a creek and ditches.

“At times, the water got up there, close to some of the homes,” Dees said. “But once it started draining good, the level of the lake went way down.”

Dees said at the time the initial break happened, there were about three homes in danger were the levee to fail completely.

Heavy rains have swollen the size of the lake, which has been allowed to silt-in over the last several years to a normal depth of 4 to 5 feet. Prior to the intentional breach, the lake was at about 7 to 8 feet, after recent rains, Dees reported.

“After the second hole was made, it drained about a foot to a foot-and-a-half this afternoon,” Dees said Sunday. “I would expect it to drop to at least 3 feet by (Monday).”

At this time, the plan is to drain the lake completely, and crews will be doing further work today on the levee. The Waltonville Village Board will meet on July 11 and are expected to discuss the future of the lake at that time, Dees said.

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