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Naperville
Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Step-by-step basin dredging at May Watts Park

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Above / Back in July 2018, a sign placed at the Sequoia Road entrance to May Watts Park announced a basin dredging/water quality project was planned by the Naperville Park District. Though the sign is now down, prep work began Aug. 27, 2018, for the project expected to take a week. When the project was determined to be more involved than expected, running longer than a week, the crew said they’d be back in 2019.

We find great joy in our city’s parks, including the Riverwalk, when folks act to promote, protect and preserve the environment and local wildlife, finding solutions to sustain in the care of our natural treasures 365 days a year.

Whenever possible, take time to walk and explore a park. Ride bikes and share the road. Never feed ducks, geese, waterfowl and other wildlife. Pick up litter. Conserve water. Every individual effort makes a difference right here in Naperville, in the heart of the Midwest.

Scroll down this page to check progress in photos of the original effort to dredge May Watts Pond in the summer of 2018, beginning with the most recent post about its return in August 2019.


UPDATE, Sept. 23, 2019 / Nearly every time we visit May Watts Park, some curious individual wants to know about the project spread out on the west side of the pond near the soccer fields by May Watts Elementary School. Surrounded by green snow fence, a second silt container has been drying since a crew from OSR Systems, a pond restoration company, completed “round two” of their basin dredging and muck removal earlier this summer.

The second silt container at this location was never as high as last summer; however, the process of using divers, hoses, pumps and the latest technology to restore the pond to its natural bottom was the same.

Update, July 23, 2019 / The silt container from 2018 was opened in early July and removed (note fabric at right), and the area on the west side of the park property was prepared for another dredging to remove lily pads and other organic sediment growing in the north end pond.

According to National Geographic, silty soil is usually more fertile than other types of soil, meaning it is good for growing crops in garden plots. On the flip side, however, some sensitive freshwater fish may be affected negatively by silt-laden waters. May Watts Pond is known to local anglers as a great spot for catching and releasing blue gill, catfish, bass and carp.

PN tracks the Naperville Park District Basin Dredging Project in 2018

Original Post, Aug. 28, 2018 / Weeks ago, residents who live near May Watts Park were informed the attractive pond that’s been swamped with lily pads one summer after the next, fresh new odors, sometimes stinky gases, as well as recent winter fish kill, would receive “basin dredging.” 

The organic sediment removal aims to help conservation and improve water quality in one of the prettiest neighborhood parks in the city where summer days present dozens of colorful wildflowers among the cattails, milkweed and thistle while birds, bees and butterflies feed and pollinate.

For the first time in years, monarch, sulfur and swallowtail butterflies often were sighted during July and August in May Watts Park where fish were jumping.

Nearby residents know the park, pond and trail, as well as the adjacent elementary school, are named to honor May Theilgaard Watts, the naturalist and educator who used to live in Naperville and work at the Morton Arboredum.

Great Blue Heron and many other wildlife are attracted to May Watts Pond where a team currently is working to revive the pond now topped with lily pads and other invasive plants.

Day 1 / Yesterday, Aug. 27, a bobcat arrived on the scene to clear the way to roll out an enormous bag known as a silt container that will collect more than a thousand cubic yards of pond sediment—muck, weeds and algae—so it can dry and be dispersed in May Watts Park or removed from the park altogether.

The beep, beep, beep of a bobcat resonated throughout May Watts Park on Aug. 27 while removing sod from the property, preparing May Watts Park for a large silt container. For the next week, crews will use the latest technology to restore the pond to its natural bottom.

Day 2 / Today, Aug. 28, a four-man crew set the stage with pumps, huge hoses and the silt container to begin collecting sediment in the still water of May Watts Pond.

A large pump is attached to a hose that runs all around the north side of the pond toward the silt container, set just south of the footbridge.
The large roll of synthetic fabric turns into a massive silt container when it’s stretched out over the property. (See its growth in photos below.)
When filled, the silt container can hold 1,200 cubic yards. One cubic yard weighs one ton. Imagine this container when it’s 6 feet high, weighing 1,200 tons!

According to Director of Operations Michael Kobutko at OSR Systems, the pond restoration company was started by his father in 1991. The project in May Watts Park likely will take about a week. Depending on rainfall, residents could see the water level drop in the pond by a couple of inches, Kobutko said.

Today the crew is working at the north end of May Watts Pond where hoses are removing muck and other sediment that’s settled in the bottom of the retention pond. We observed the pond is shallow. Removal of sediment will help deepen the pond to a more natural bottom and to create better environment for fish in a pond that has been stocked by the Naperville Park District in the past for anglers.
By 1PM Tues., Aug. 28, the silt container began to show that it’s filling with organic sediment as crews aim to restore May Watts Pond to a more natural ecosystem. Ponds built in the Midwest may need more depth to keep the pond from freezing solid, especially when not spring fed. Whether the pond is large or small, it must be deep enough (preferably between 10-16 feet deep) for fish to survive the deep freeze of the winter months.
When this photo was taken of Michael Kobutko early in the afternoon on Aug. 28, the silt container was about six inches high. When filled, it likely will be about six feet high before it is left to dry and reduce in size.  Fertile “silty” soil is good for crops and gardening.

Day 3 / The drone of pumps indicates sediment is making its way to the big silt container pictured here looking north where it’s plain to see they have a long way to go before it’s six feet high.

The other end of this silt container shows progress where the first hose is emptying the muck from the pond on the north side of the footbridge. (Compare to photos below on Day 5 and Day 7.

Down by the shore line, a member of the crew welcomed our curiosity with good humor, wondering if we’re taking photos for National Geographic. While the pump works to remove silt through the hose, two men wading in the pond are collecting roots and other debris from the bottom of the pond for a large pile that is being placed in a large dumpster, one arm load at a time.

By noon, Aug. 29, 80 trips already had been counted to dispose of roots and other muck that are being collected by the crew diving and wading in the pond.

Growing up in a large Midwestern family of farmers and builders, we’ve always observed much pleasure and satisfaction that comes from the nature of hard physical labor and working outside. We appreciate the dredging and restoration at May Watts Pond that will make the natural landscape healthier and fishing better. Thank you!

—PN, Aug. 29, 2019


Day 5, Sept. 4, 2018 / Workers were off for four days in recognition of the Labor Day Weekend. Back at work on Tues., Sept. 4, 2018, we learned the clay bottom of the pond was contributing to slower-than-expected sediment removal.

Sediment travels through hoses from the north end of May Watts Pond to fill the silt container just south of the footbridge. 
Two divers steadily removed roots and other debris that had invaded May Watts Pond.

Day 7, Sept. 6, 2018 / On Wednesday, one dumpster filled to the brim with roots and other muck was hauled away and replaced by a second dumpster. On Thursday, the second dumpster shows the long and winding roots from water lilies. 

After divers loosen the mucky wet roots, workers placed them in a dumpster for disposal.
Compare this photo of the silt container to Day 5 and Day 3.
With a break in the heat and humidity, two divers worked under water to detach and remove roots in May Watts Pond where the silt-filled water was warmer than the air temperature, one diver noted.
The silt container currently is surrounded by a snow fence that is four feet high.

The silt containers are beginning to show they’re expanding with silt. When finished, the containers likely will be six or seven feet high before they begin drying and their size ends up being reduced by half.

Wearing a 30-pound weight belt in addition to the air tank and other equipment that amounts to more than 100 pounds, divers say they enjoy their jobs under water—especially if they hear a good song right before they enter the pond, a song that resonates in their minds while they work.

Day 8, Sept. 7, 2018 / Since one of the workers jokes with us every time he sees us as “a photographer from National Geographic,” we sought a definition of silt from that publication’s website at www.nationalgeographic.org.

“Silt is a solid, dust-like sediment that water, ice, and wind transport and deposit

“Silt is made up of rock and mineral particles that are larger than clay but smaller than sand. Individual silt particles are so small that they are difficult to see. To be classified as silt, a particle must be less than .005 centimeters (.002 inches) across. Silt is found in soil, along with other types of sediment such as clay, sand, and gravel

…”Silt can change landscapes. For example, silt settles in still water. So, deposits of silt slowly fill in places like wetlands, lakes, and harbors. Floods deposit silt along river banks and on flood plains.” 

A diving team from Organic Sediment Removal Systems is working to remove roots from invasive plants while pumps send sediment into this silt container. When finished, the container is expected to be 6 to 7 feet high. Then the wet porous bag that is continually releasing water as it is filled will be left to dry out and reduce to about half its size before it’s moved.

Day 10, Sept. 11, 2018 / The crew prepares to leave the dredging project for now. “Silt container is full,” Michael Kobutko said, noting the large plump porous bag will be left to dry.

During the dredging that began on August 28, 2918, we observed what the friendly crew called an “environmental-friendly and cost-effective process.”  Divers went straight to the bottom to clear the problem by removing the organic sediment (or muck) as well as filling three dumpsters of invasive plants and roots very efficiently and effectively without the use of heavy equipment.

Compare the plumpness of silt container to the photo above from Day 8.
Thanks to this knowledgeable crew from Organic Sediment Removal Systems, every day was a learning experience. We look forward to learning more when they return to May Watts Park next spring.

For more info about dredging and efficient ways to restore ponds and lakes, visit Organic Sediment Removal Systems.

Stay tuned for more updates in spring 2019!

Editor’s Note / This innovative dredging project is not the first for Naperville. Though PN didn’t watch the work in progress last year, we observed a number of silt containers as they dried out for months on City property along Ft. Hill Road, west of the Post Office. 

RELATED PN POSTS / Link to many stories about May Watts and its changing seasons saved here.

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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.

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