One down, two to go in historic dam removal project

Project Summary: The first of three dams has been removed as part of the largest dam removal in Michigan history.


Project name: Boardman River dam removal.

Location: Traverse City, Michigan.

Brown Bridge Dam.

Brown Bridge Dam.

Description: The Boardman River is one of Michigan’s ten best trout streams and one of the most ecologically significant and popular rivers in northern Michigan. The river’s watershed encompasses 291 square miles and produces one-third of the water volume of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, in Traverse City. Four dams were built in the river in the late 1800s and early 1900s to power a flourmill and, later, generate electricity. The dams created obstructions in the river, which created artificial ponds, blocked fish passage, altered natural stream flows and increased water temperatures in parts of the blue-ribbon trout stream. In 2005, Traverse City Light and Power determined it was no longer cost effective to generate electricity at the dams.  That decision prompted a coalition of community groups to develop a plan to remove three of the dams and modify the Union Street Dam in downtown Traverse City. The project is the largest dam removal project in Michigan’s history. Removal of the first dam, Brown Bridge Dam, was marred by the failure of a temporary dam in October 2012 that caused flooding downstream. The project was completed in early 2013 and that stretch of river was re-opened to anglers and paddlers in April 2013. The project also gave fish access to 145 miles of stream above the dam for the first time in nearly 100 years. Removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams is expected to begin in 2014.

The Boardman River has returned to its natural channel after 90 years, following removal of the Brown Bridge Dam.

The Boardman River has returned to its natural channel after 90 years, following removal of the Brown Bridge Dam.

Approximate cost of project: $4.2 million; the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided $1.9 million for the project.

Resource challenges addressed: Obstructions to fish passage, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, loss of wetlands and upstream habitat and unnatural warming of water temperatures in the cold-water trout stream.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, city of Traverse City, Grand Traverse County and several other organizations.

Types of jobs created: Civil engineers, biologists, ecologists, heavy equipment operators, general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: Re-established 2.5 miles of river channel, 12.2 acres of floodplain, moved 260,000 cubic yards of sediment and restored more than one mile of in-stream habitat.

Web site:

Originally Published: June 25, 2013