From the Office of the Director

Marty Holtgren PHD
Executive Director, Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

During the past month members have forwarded me articles that have run in national newspapers.  The common theme to each is how dams are failing across the United States and how we could be facing a major problem.  These dams will either be proactively evaluated and removed, or many will fail and we will need to react to the consequences.  There are over 94 dams within the Muskegon River Watershed and one characteristic most share is that the wateshed would be healthier had they never been constructed. Obviously, the larger hydroelectric dams on the mainstem of the Muskegon River (like Croton and Hardy), are actively managed to provide local sources of energy and recreational opportunities.  Riparian property owners and recreational users are major supporters. Additionally, they are massive structures that provide Sea Lamprey control and have a staggering cost for removal.

However, many smaller dams in the watershed which were originally intended for flood control or water level maintenance are now in disrepair and serve no practical purpose.  In fact, over the past year a few have failed and will either need to be removed, altered or repaired.  Nearly all of these could be removed cost effectively with significant benefit.  Some are recreational in nature, creating lakes or ponds of various sizes. Many are private property and the owners are not inclined or obligated to remove them as long as they don’t violate any regulations.

That leaves a few that qualify as good candidates for removal based on our own investigation and we hope to take action over the next few years.  Some dams are known in their communities as historical features and provide a legacy to community members.  We are committed to working with these communities to explore options to maintain these historical connections while improving the natural characteristics of the rivers they impede.

I was excited in early January when the MRWA hosted a meeting with JMB Associates to discuss dam removal for the Muskegon River watershed.  The meeting was attended by many of our partnering organizations including DNR, Trout Unlimited, conservation districts, other environmental Non-Governmental Organizations and industry.  This was the kick-off to the Ice Mountain Environmental Stewardship Fund grant that the MRWA was awarded that is managed by the Fremont Area Community Foundation.  The yearlong process will identify and prioritize small dams that could be removed based upon landowner support and the social and ecological benefits.  At the end we will identify two dams for removal where we will work with the supportive landowner, develop design plans, and establish an estimate of cost.  This will give us what we need to apply for grants to provide the needed funding.   I will be providing updates in upcoming newsletters as we pursue dam removal in the watershed and realize the profound environmental, social and recreational benefits that will occur.