Removal of two dams in Michigan restores river, eliminates safety hazard

Project Summary Federal Great Lakes restoration funds supported the removal of two obsolete, crumbling dams on the Paw Paw River, in southwest Michigan, removing fish barriers, restoring the river’s natural channel and providing more recreational activities.

Project name: Watervliet Dams Removal

Location: Watervliet, Mich.

Workers remove old dam on Michigan’s Paw Paw River. (Photo / Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.)

Workers remove old dam on Michigan’s Paw Paw River. (Photo / Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.)

Description: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds, along with state and local funds, were used to remove two dams and a spillway in the Paw Paw River, just east of the city of Watervliet in southwest Michigan. The dams restricted fish passage and prevented migratory fish from Lake Michigan from reaching the upper 100 miles of river. The dams and spillway were built in 1918 to support a paper mill. The paper mill closed in 1968 and the dams fell into disrepair, which presented a safety hazard to boaters and anglers. Removing the dams restored the river’s natural channel, improved water quality and created fish and wildlife habitat by turning a stagnant stretch of the river into a vibrant waterway. The project was significant because the Paw Paw River, which supports 40 species of fish, is a high quality tributary of Lake Michigan.

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After the closing of an old paper mill in 1968, dam on Michigan’s Paw Paw river fell into disrepair, posing a safety hazard to boaters and anglers. (Photo / Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.

Approximate cost:  $1,103,957

Resource challenges addressed: Impaired water quality, loss of fish and wildlife habitat and ecosystem fragmentation.

Key partners (public and private): 

Funding was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($922,759), with additional funding from Berrien County ($25,000), the Michigan Department of Natural Resources ($56,198), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ($100,000). Other partners included The Nature Conservancy, Two Rivers Coalition and the city of Watervliet. Project consultants were Environmental Consulting & Technology and the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission.

Watervliet, dam removal, Great Lakes restoration, Paw Paw River, Michigan, fish barriers, restoration, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, fish and wildlife habitat, Lake Michigan

Paw Paw River after successful dam removal. (Photo / Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.)

Types of jobs created:

Civil engineers, excavators and other heavy equipment operators, chemists, biologists, ecologists, environmental engineers and community planners. A total of 21 jobs were created.

Results and accomplishments:

Removing the dams liberated and restored a stretch of the Paw Paw River that had been submerged by dam impoundments for five decades. The project reconnected 100 miles of free-flowing stream to Lake Michigan, created new fish and wildlife habitat and increased recreational opportunities for anglers and paddlers. The project eliminated a financial strain on taxpayers by ending the Berrien County’s need to maintain the dams. Restoring the river is also expected to generate economic benefits for communities along the river by reestablishing a fishery for salmon and other migratory species.

Web site: http://www.swmpc.org/watervlietdam.asp

Originally Published: November 30, 2011

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