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Ottawa canal rewatering completion expected in 2019

Engineer sees project as a signature park for the city

Originally planned for completion last fall, the rewatering of a section of the Illinois & Michigan Canal in Ottawa should be finished in 2019.

After a section of the canal was worked on by Marine and Army reserve units last summer, the next step was for a contractor to attend to the canal’s banks and other features.

But contractors who bid on the job last September did so with some concerns, said Ottawa City Engineer Dave Noble.

The bidders were nervous about whether rain or bad weather would prevent completion within the short timeline for the project. As it turned out, the hesitancy was well placed.

“Right after the Army was done it rained the entire month of August,” Noble said. “It was a wet fall. There were some clear days in September, but the canal has hardly ever dried out.”

The decision was to seek new bids in January or February with a fall completion date.

“That way the bidders can rest assured that there will be some nice hot dry spells so they can get the work done,” Noble said. “That should give them the confidence they can bid a lower price and get it done in good weather.”

Also, the contractors had some useful recommendations.

“We’ve made some plan revisions that were suggested by contractors to save some costs,” Noble said.

Additionally, there was a surprise that also should save money. Some parts of the canal bed already hold water pretty nicely and won’t need to be lined.

That was thanks to the work by the reserve units that cleared the canal bed of tree roots and other vegetation then worked up the ground and recompacted it. 

“So, when we rebid the project we should get some better prices,” Noble said. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”

“Our goal is to have the project completed by next fall,” he said. “That includes grass on the banks and passages under the bridges so you can travel by path or water. I see the canal project as a signature park for the city.”

How much water is soaking into the canal?

There’s nothing high-tech about how Ottawa City Engineer Dave Noble is checking for water absorption in finished parts of the canal bed.

Here’s how:

1. Put a metal yardstick in the canal bottom and every day go out and read how high the water is on the yardstick to see how fast it goes down.

2. Put a full bucket of water next to the yardstick and every day measure how much the water goes down in the bucket by evaporation.

3. From the decreasing water level on the yardstick, subtract the amount that’s going down in the bucket by evaporation: What’s left is the amount soaking into the ground.

On the west end of the canal project area Noble found that virtually no water was soaking into the ground.

“Zero water was soaking in the ground,” he said. “It was just sitting there."

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