Dam removal improves Michigan river, creates fishery

The Paw Paw River is flowing freely again in southwest Michigan, thanks to a $1.1 million project that removed two obsolete dams in the city of Watervliet.

A coalition of local, state and federal groups coordinated by the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission directed the project, which removed dams that blocked fish passage and posed safety hazards to boaters, anglers and swimmers in the river. Go here for more details on this successful Great Lakes restoration project.

The dams were built in 1918 to support a paper mill in the small town of Watervliet, located in the district of Congressman Fred Upton, R-Michigan. The paper mill closed in 1968 and the dams fell into disrepair.

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 also reconnected 100 miles of free-flowing stream to Lake Michigan, created new fish and wildlife habitat and increased recreational opportunities for anglers and paddlers.

Dams pose problems in scores of Great Lakes tributaries. The structures often block fish passage and disrupt the natural flow of sediment and nutrients.

Removing the Watervliet dams is expected to create a thriving sport fishery in Watervliet. Salmon from Lake Michigan have already been spotted in the river.

The project also eliminated a financial drain on Berrien County, which owned the dams and was required by law to maintain the structures.

Local leaders can now focus on developing a more robust recreational economy that is focused on the restored Paw Paw River.

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