Dam Removal Improves River,

Saved Community Festival

The failure of a dam in northern Michigan led to a solution that restored fish passage in an important Lake Huron tributary and for a time, saved a popular community festival in the process.

Description

The Chesaning Dam was built in 1863 to power a grist millage in the village of Chesaning, located about 40 miles northwest of Detroit. The dam on the Shiawassee River was a community fixture and the pond it created was the site of the popular Chesaning Showboat Festival, an annual event that began in 1837. The partial collapse of the dam in 2005 created a safety hazard, lowered water levels in the impoundment and jeopardized the Showboat Festival. Faced with the prospect of losing the dam and the festival, community leaders and state officials worked with engineers to develop a unique solution that restored natural conditions in the river while maintaining water levels that were sufficient to support the Showboat Festival. The dam was removed and replaced with manmade rapids that were comprised of a series of rock ramps and boulder arch weirs in the river. The step-down structure restored fish passage, giving walleye and sturgeon in the Saginaw River and Lake Huron access to 37 miles of the Shiawassee River above the former dam, and preserved water levels upstream that were sufficient to support the Showboat Festival. The manmade weirs also created whitewater rapids that attracted kayakers and became a new point of pride for the community.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Degraded fish habitat
  • Loss of ecological connectivity

CHESANING DAM REMOVAL

The Chesaning Dam was replaced with a series of rock weirs that allowed fish passage and maintained sufficient water levels upstream. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Results and Accomplishments

The project gave walleye and lake sturgeon in the Saginaw River and Lake Huron access to 37 miles of spawning habitat in the Shiawassee River and saved the popular Chesaning Showboat Festival. Unfortunately, in 2013 the festival had to close due to lack of funding.