Great Lakes Restoration Funds Helping Community in Oakland County, Michigan, Remove Old Dam

Project Summary Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds are helping community in Oakland County, Mich., remove an old dam to improve water, fish habitat and recreational opportunities.

Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds are helping citizens in Oakland County, Mich., to remove the old Paint Creek Dam. Photo / Celia Haven

Project Name: Paint Creek Dam Removal

Location: Oakland County, Mich., in metro Detroit

Local Partner: Clinton River Watershed Council

Resource Challenge
Paint Creek, a tributary of the Clinton River in Southeast Michigan, is one of two remaining coldwater trout streams in Oakland County. The area has undergone tremendous changes over the past several decades. Rapid urbanization has led to sewage and storm water runoff problems. Heavy industry in the area discharged toxic pollutants in area waterways. Heavy metals, PCBs and other pollutants that pose a risk to the health of people and wildlife remain in the mud of many waters to this day. The suite of threats led the U.S. EPA to list the greater Clinton River as an Area of Concern—one of the 30 most-polluted waterways in the Great Lakes region.

Paint Creek, which rests within the Clinton River Area of Concern, has its own resource challenges. Historically, the creek provided hydropower to a gristmill in Oakland County, leaving behind a dam and a millrace. The dam, approximately five feet tall, blocks all fish that would otherwise swim upstream to spawn, effectively eliminating miles of habitat. The pool above the dam causes further damage – degrading the stream’s quality by allowing years of sediment to accumulate.

Paint Creek, downstream from a dam that will be removed to help improve water quality, fish habitat and recreational opportunities. Photo / Celia Haven

Federal Investment Accelerating Cleanup
In 2010, the Clinton River Watershed Council received a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant for over $700,000 to remove the dam. Besides the issues surrounding safe dam removal, such as stream bank restoration and downstream flood management, the watershed council worked with citizens who had lived with the millrace as a prominent feature in their yards for years and were hesitant to see it change.
The Clinton River Watershed Council has been meeting with these neighbors to discuss their concerns and address any apprehension about the project.

Partnering with Citizens, Public Officials
The watershed council is currently working on the next stages of the project. During spring and summer of 2011, an expert technical committee will explore the best way to remove the dam and maintain the millrace while stabilizing the streambank and planning safeguards against possible problems. In the meantime, the watershed council will obtain the necessary permits. Throughout the process, the watershed council has engaged the surrounding landowners and the city. This work will continue before construction begins – there will be a public open house to present the plan for removal and answer any lingering questions from neighbors.

Moving Forward
Construction is currently scheduled for August and September of 2011, when the creek is at its lowest point and conditions are best for dam removal. Removing the dam will not only open up miles of habitat to fish and other aquatic wildlife, it will improve the quality of the stream, making it more attractive to the community for fishing and other recreation.

Continued Support from Congress, White House Essential
Federal support is paving the way for the successful removal of the Paint Creek dam. Unfortunately, there are countless communities around the region which continue to struggle with drinking water restrictions, beach closings, fish consumption advisories, depressed property values and other impacts from unhealthy lakes. That is why it is essential for the U.S. Congress and the White House to support federal programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. If we cut funding now, it will only cost more later because all of these projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.

Originally Published: June 7, 2011