State of the Beach/State Reports/IL/Beach Fill

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Illinois Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access76
Water Quality65
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-3
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures7 3
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Construction projects in Illinois waterways, floodplains, and wetlands often require authorizations from both the USACE and the IEPA. Applicants seeking a permit to allow discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including streams, lakes, and wetlands must apply to the USACE for a permit under Section 404 of the CWA. Activities that require a Section 404 permit include navigational dredging, levee construction, channel clearing, filling of wetlands for land development, and waterway impoundment for construction of a water reservoir. The IEPA issues water quality certification pursuant to Section 401 of the CWA. This certification must be issued prior to the commencement of construction activity for all projects requiring a Section 404 permit.

The website of the Great Lakes Commission has a substantial amount of information on the beneficial use of dredged materials and related subjects.


The report Summary of Beach Nourishment Activity Along the Great Lakes' Shoreline 1955-1996 lists 20 beach nourishment projects along the Lake Michigan shoreline of Illinois between 1970 and 1996. Projects were performed at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion and in Waukegan, Lake Forest, Evanston, and Chicago. The report lists beach location, date, funding type, volume, length, and cost for each project.

In addition to extensive lakefill along the Chicago shoreline, there is fill along the Lake Michigan shoreline of Illinois at Northwestern University, Wilmette’s Gillson Park, some North Shore municipal beaches and water plants. Nearly all of the rest of the Illinois coast is not fill.

Fill along the Chicago shoreline extends up to three-quarters of a mile into the lake and reaches depths of 18 to 20 feet. The majority of filling and park and beach construction took place between 1920 and 1940. Most of the fill was sand dredged from the lake bottom off the Indiana shore.

Some additional information on lakefill/beach fill along the Illinois shoreline is as follows:

Chicago Lakeshore

Shoreline change along the Chicago lakeshore began in 1833 with the entrapment of littoral sand against the north jetty at the Chicago River mouth. By 1869, nearly 70 acres of sand accumulation had occurred north of the north jetty. In the late 1800s, there was continued filling to make land in the vicinity of the Chicago River mouth primarily for rail and maritime commerce. There was also growing interest in making new land for lakeshore parks. Chicago has a unique history among coastal cities in the planning and execution of extensive projects to build new shore land and shape the urban shoreline for public use. The building of a park-dominated shoreline required constructing a new shoreline further in the lake, armoring this shoreline to prevent erosion, and building harbors and beaches at select locations. More than 5.5 square miles (14 km2) of Chicago’s lakefront land resulted from the late 19th and early 20th century lakeshore construction. Nearly all of the fill material was sand or clay either mined from the lake bottom or from dune deposits along the Indiana shore. A second generation of lakeshore construction began in the 1990s. This was needed to replace the original generation of timber and stone shore protection with steel sheetpile and reinforced concrete.

Lake Calumet Vicinity
Lake Calumet and the surrounding Calumet area have had substantial shoreline, river line and wetland modification as the landscape of this area was shaped and reshaped for industry, commerce and port facilities. Filling on the perimeter of Lake Calumet has reduced the present (1997) lake area to about 52 percent of what existed in the late 1890s. Filling has occurred on the margins of Wolf Lake, and all of former nearby Hyde Lake has been filled. River engineering has straightened and repositioned segments of the Calumet River. Unlike much of the filling along the Chicago lakefront which used sand and clay, slag from steel mills was a major component in much of the filling in the Calumet area.

Other Notable Shoreline Modifications
The lakeshore municipalities north of Chicago each have municipal parks and beaches along the shore. Many also have waterworks facilities, several of which are adjacent to parkland. Limited usable land at the base of the bluffs resulted in lake filling for parks or public utilities. These are typically localized shoreline modifications that are no more than a few acres. The following describes the three largest lake fillings north of Chicago.

  • Evanston - Northwestern University: Lakefilling for the construction of 73 acres of new land for the campus of Northwestern University occurred in the 1960s.
  • Wilmette – Gillson Park: The 1907-1909 excavation of the North Shore Channel provided clay fill for construction of about 30 acres of land for Gillson Park.
  • Forest Park – Forest Park Beach: This 22-acre park facility completed in 1987 includes a system of offshore breakwaters, beach cells, boat basin, parking and parkland.

The Illinois Beach State Park Project was authorized by Sec 501(b) of the 1986 WRDA, subject to a favorable report. The plan in the draft feasibility report, identified as a locally preferred plan, provided for construction of a 4,300 foot rubblemound revetment, 14 offshore breakwaters, and annual beach fill. An "all beach fill plan" was developed in the revised feasibility report.

Total Project Cost $86,000,000
Federal Cost $43,000,000
Non-Federal Cost $43,000,000

Current Status:
The feasibility report is being revised in accordance with language contained in House Report 2445, which accompanied the FY 94 Appropriations Act. It directed the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) to complete and transmit the feasibility report to Congress with conclusions and recommendations of the District Engineer in accordance with current law. The District met with HQUSACE in a forum similar to an Alternative Review Conference in July 2001. Work on this study has been suspended until funding is provided.

Project Sponsor:
Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Update Although the large Army Corps of Engineers project still seems to be stalled, in January 2014 Gov. Pat Quinn announced $1.3 million for stabilization to prevent a parking lot from being swallowed by Lake Michigan, reduction of erosion with a man-made reef and moving sand to the north end of the site. More on this.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency announced in February 2005 that it had granted a Section 401 Clean Water Act certification to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for 10 years of annual maintenance dredging in the Waukegan Harbor Approach Channel and the Advanced Maintenance Area in Lake Michigan. IEPA reached the engineering and scientific judgment the project would not cause water pollution or adversely impact water quality in Lake Michigan.

However, IEPA is withholding any approvals for the discharge of dredged material in Lake Michigan or for beach fill until the Illinois Attorney General’s Task Force, formed to review asbestos-related issues at Illinois Beach State Park, has completed its report. The certification includes requirements (starting this season) that at least 90 days before any dredging, sampling and analysis will be done according to the recommendations in “Illinois Beach State Park: Determination of Asbestos Contamination in Sand Used for Beach Nourishment, Final Recommendations” dated December 29, 2003. This document was prepared by the University of Illinois at Chicago Center of Excellence in Environmental Health and endorsed by the Attorney General’s Task Force, which includes IEPA.

Once IEPA has reviewed the data and information related to findings and health risks in the Task Force’s final report, the Agency will then decide on a case-by-case basis whether to issue, conditionally issue or deny its approval for either disposal of dredged material in Lake Michigan or for beach fill purposes.

Following is a discussion of the history of erosion, beach fill and overall sand management at Illinois Beach State Park from the Shoreline Erosion Issue Paper (2011) from the Illinois Coastal Management Program.

Shore Erosion
For decades, shore erosion has been a primary coastal management issue at Illinois Beach State Park (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1953; Tetra Tech 1978). The geologic history of this migratory coastal landscape confirms that erosion is part of the natural dynamics of this coastal system. The potential for the most severe erosion presently occurs along the shore of the North Unit immediately south (downdrift) of North Point Marina. This is part of the naturally occurring erosional shore along the northern end of the beach-ridge plain. However, erosion is accentuated by the lack of any appreciable littoral sediment supply from the north.

Shore erosion along the state park North Unit provides the supply of littoral sediment that moves southward and eventually reaches the South Unit. This southward moving sediment supply contributes to a more balanced sediment budget toward the south. As a result, there are diminishing rates of shore erosion progressing southward toward the null zone centered near the mouth of the Dead River. However, all of the state park South Unit could have erosion as severe as what occurs in the North Unit if the supply of littoral sediment is disrupted. There is nothing inherent in the geology of the South Unit that contributes to the diminished erosion rates other than the littoral sediment supply from the north.

Since the late 1980s, the IDNR has used beach nourishment as the primary means of managing the shore erosion. Nourishment sand has been stockpiled at two designated feeder beaches from which wave action has been allowed to erode and transport the sand southward and nourish the beach and nearshore. One feeder beach has been along the shore at the north end of the North Unit. A second feeder beach, used less frequently, has been along the shore at the north end of the South Unit. Sand supplied to these feeder beaches by truck during the late 1980s and 1990s was derived from a variety of sources including dredging at North Point Marina or nearby Prairie Harbor Yacht Club, dredging at the Waukegan Generating Station, or import of sand purchased from inland sand pits. Sand has also been supplied to the nearshore area opposite the North Unit feeder beach by hopper barge with sand derived from dredging at the entrance channel to Waukegan Harbor, or by slurry pipe from dredging at the entrance to North Point Marina.

Evaluation of the littoral sediment budget along the state park shore indicates a need for a minimum of 80,000 cubic yards per year to maintain a balanced annual sediment budget (Foyle, Chrzastowski, and Trask 1998). This volume of sand nourishment has been supplied to the state park during some years. However, there have also been years of lesser volume supply as well as years of no beach nourishment. Monetary constraints and securing sand that meets permit standards have been major obstacles in assuring sustained annual beach nourishment.

In 1999, the IDNR formed a Task Force for Coastal Stewardship to evaluate options for the long-term coastal stewardship of the state shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park and North Point Marina (IDNR Task Force for Coastal Stewardship 2001). A primary objective of this task force was to evaluate all options for managing shore erosion at the park. This task force, comprised of IDNR scientific and technical staff, determined that beach nourishment was preferable to any type of engineered shore protection such as breakwaters, groins, or revetments. Maintaining the naturally occurring movement of sand along the beaches was determined to be critical to maintain habitat quality for nearshore fisheries, and rare coastal plant and animal communities. Unarmored shoreline and dynamic sand movement are essential to maintain open habitat for successfully re-introduced federally threatened Pitchers Thistle populations and to preserve the landscape qualities required for the federally endangered Piping Plover. Maintaining a shore free of any additional shore structures was also considered an important aesthetic objective for the benefit of future generations.

Recognizing the challenges in assuring an adequate sand supply for an annual beach nourishment program, the Task Force suggested development of partnerships with neighboring property holders that have to manage a surplus of littoral sand. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which periodically dredges the entrance channel to Waukegan Harbor, Midwest Generation Corporation which dredges the intake channels for the Waukegan Generating Station, and Prairie Harbor Yacht Club which dredges its entrance channel. This proposed partnership relates to the issue of coastal management at the State Park and North Point Marina being part of an integrated coastal management plan for the distinct littoral cell that exists between the Illinois-Wisconsin state line and Waukegan Harbor.

The Task Force also recommended a sand conservation and recycling program that would mimic the natural dynamic coastal sand movement and preserve the landscape and habitat characteristics. Sand eroded from the northern segment of the state shoreline would be captured at the southern end of the state shoreline. From there, the sand could be transported northward by truck or barge, placed along the shore, and allowed to again be transported southward. Construction of a groin or similar structure at or near the south end of the South Unit would provide the needed sediment trap. Partnership with the Waukegan Generating Station could provide a benefit of reduced sand volumes reaching the water intake channel for the plant, which requires intermittent dredging (IDNR Task Force for Coastal Stewardship 2001; Bridges and Etemma 1999).

This sand conservation and recycling effort could have considerable benefits. It would be less costly than conventional beach nourishment of purchasing sand from inland sources. The effort would address the problem of sand accumulation (sand surplus) at the power plant intake channel and the harbor approach channel, as well as the problem of erosion (sand deficit) that threaten to destroy portions of the Nature Preserve and rare coastal natural areas. What are not known with certainty are the potential negative impacts of deprived sediment supply along the shore to the south (downdrift) of the proposed groin or similar structure. Modeling would be necessary to determine the potential coastal changes.

Detrimental Sand Accumulation
Although erosion and a deficit of sand is the dominant shore management issue along most of the state park shore, the North Point Marina area faces the opposite condition of a surplus of littoral sand and detrimental impacts from this surplus. This condition results from a limited but persistent net southerly transport of littoral sand across the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. The north breakwater of the marina forms a partial barrier to this net southerly transport. This partial barrier results in sand accumulation at North Beach which is the 1,000 foot long beach between the state line and the north breakwater, as well as across the North Beach nearshore. Sand accretion in the North Beach area contributes to shallower water depths and allows wave action to move sand southward around the north breakwater and into the area near the marina entrance (Moffatt and Nichol Engineers 1986; Chrzastowski 2003).

Northerly waves have the potential to continue moving sand past the marina entrance and southward to the state park shore. However, sand that can accumulate near the marina entrance has the potential for being transported by southeasterly waves into the marina and be deposited in the approach areas to the marina’s recreational and commercial basins. This sand accumulation reduces water depth and restricts the useable width of the marina entrance channel. This sand accumulation thus compromises navigation safety into and out of the marina. Once sand accumulates within the marina, there is no wave or current action that can return this sand outside the marina basin. The sand accumulated within the marina requires intermittent dredging. Sand dredged from the marina has been used for beach nourishment along the shore immediately south of the marina.

A sand management challenge for the marina is the periodic removal of sand that accumulates in the North Beach area in order to maintain a beach and nearshore profile equal to that at the time of marina construction (1987-88). As of 2006, such a sand removal effort has not been done. Such removal would benefit the marina in reducing the volume of sand that might bypass the north breakwater and become deposited in the marina entrance area. An additional opportunity for sand management is the construction of an excavated area on the lake bottom immediately south of the state line to form a sand trap. Littoral sand in transport across the state line could be intercepted within this trap and thus prevent further transport toward the marina entrance (Chrzastowski 2003). Periodically dredging of this sand trap would maintain its function. Dredged sand could be used as beach nourishment immediately south of the marina.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.

State, Territory, and Commonwealth Beach Nourishment Programs: A National Overview (2000) is a report NOAA/OCRM that provides an overview of the problem of beach erosion, various means of addressing this problem, and discusses issues regarding the use of beach nourishment. Section 2 of the report provides an overview of state, territorial, and commonwealth coastal management policies regarding beach nourishment and attendant funding programs. Appendix B provides individual summaries of 33 beach nourishment programs and policies.


Michael J. Chrzastowski
ICMP Coastal Resource Coordinator
Senior Coastal Geologist
IDNR, Illinois State Geological Survey
Phone: 217-244-2194

State of the Beach Report: Illinois
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