Sedimentation has severely impacted backwater lakes along the Illinois River. The State of Illinois and the US Army Corps of Engineers are currently involved in a joint effort to address ecosystem degradation within the Illinois River Basin, and excessive sedimentation of backwater lakes and side channels is a primary cause of that degradation. Necessary parts of the overall restoration effort are to adequately characterize both the quality and quantity of backwater lake sediments prior to implementing any restoration efforts, and to identify potential beneficial reuses of dredged sediments. This paper summarizes some of our efforts in these areas with an emphasis on Peoria Lake which has received the most attention to date. Sediment characterization has included detailed bathymetric surveys, sediment dating with 137Cs, chemical and mineralogical characterization of sediments to three meters depth, analysis of recent sediments (to 30 cm depth) for acid-volatile sulfide and simultaneously extracted metals, and analysis of ammonia and toxic metals in sediment pore waters. Dredged sediments have also been used in various trial projects to demonstrate potential handling and beneficial reuse strategies.
Some significant findings of these studies are: 1) Long-term sedimentation rates are high, and average 1–3 cm y−1; 2) total concentrations of several trace metals (e.g., Pb, Cd, Ni) and PAH compounds sometimes exceed consensus-based probable effect levels for sensitive sediment-dwelling organisms; 3) pore water dissolved ammonia concentrations in Peoria Lake are potentially toxic to sensitive sediment-dwelling species; and 4) weathered sediments can make productive agricultural soils.