Twin Creek Dam Project – Progress through Partnership

Marty Holtgren PHD
Principal Watershed Scientist
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

In 2020, the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) began the task of compiling a list of dams within the watershed that would be appropriate candidates for removal while developing initial design plans and removal cost estimates for those selected.

The Ice Mountain Stewardship Fund managed by the Fremont Area Community Foundation provided the necessary funding for this work and we are grateful for the support from these two valuable partners.

Between the main stem and various tributaries of the Muskegon River, there are over 100 dams, many of which no longer serve a useful purpose. Typically, removal of these obsolete dams provides real benefit to watershed health by restoring natural stream conditions including flow and connectivity.

When selecting a dam for removal we considered a number of factors:

  1. Potential benefit to the health of the watershed including amount of connectivity and temperature reductions
  2. Local community support
  3. Land owner support
  4. Benefit/Cost ratio
  5. Available funding

The first two targeted for removal were a small dam on Kinney Creek, and a more substantial structure on the Little Muskegon River near the village of Altona. The Kinney Creek job is complete while the Altona Dam project is currently in the planning stage

More recently, we partnered successfully to remove a dam on Twin Creek, a cold-water tributary of the Muskegon River that originates in the Whitmore Pond Area north of Evart and runs for approximately seven miles to its confluence with the Muskegon.

There were originally two small dams on Twin Creek that were intended for agricultural use (cattle watering) but no longer served a practical purpose. The lower of the two dams was on a beautiful stretch of stream that flows through the Twin Creek Nature Area, a large tract of land reserved by Ice Mountain Inc. for public use. The area provides nature trails, educational watershed management signage and habitat enhancement projects, including pollinator gardens and a bioswales. In keeping with the ecological objectives at this property, Ice Mountain provided all necessary funding for dam removal and restoration of the site.

Ecological Impacts

The dam was controlled by rock riprap with grouting that formed a ‘weir’ type dam with about 2 feet of head. Predictably, this structure had a relatively small impact on water temperature but did impair sediment transport processes and floodplain connectivity, while blocking fish movement for most species. The site also had remnant structural concrete elements that were once associated with a stream crossing for unknown use. The removal of the dam and the structural elements has helped to restore the site to its natural function and streambank integrity. MRWA is also investigating the potential removal of a second dam site upstream on Twin Creek, which we evaluated as part of this grant project.

Restoration Plan

  • Temporary (sheet pile) diversion dams were used to isolate half of the creek flow at a time to allow removal of the dam
  • Each of the rip-rap / grouted segments were removed to the native stream bed while flow is channeled through the other half of the creek
  • The remnant concrete crossing elements have been removed
  • Stream banks have been stabilized, utilizing wood revetments, plantings and rip-rap to prevent erosion
  • The site will be periodically monitored by Ice Mountain and MRWA to ensure that any emerging stream management needs are addressed as needed

Project Benefits

  • Two miles of natural stream have been reconnected to the Muskegon River, with potential for a lengthier free-flowing segment when the upstream dam is removed
  • Natural sediment transport and upstream / downstream fish movement has been restored
  • As always In-stream oxygen levels have improved due to slightly lower water temperature combined with higher velocity stream flow,

Final Project Cost (Funded by Ice Mountain Inc.)

Design Engineers

  • Design, Engineering and Permitting             $10,00
  • Construction Management and Supervision $6,800

Aquatic Biologists

  • Design Engineering and Permitting $3,200
  • Streambank Stabilization/Restoration $8,000

General Contractor: $10,000

  • Dam Removal
  • Seed Planting
  • Erosion Control
  • Technical Overview $2500
  • Dam Removal Plan $2700

Total Project: $43,200

Project managers always hope for positive results that are immediately evident. That is often not true but happily in this case, Twin Creek is already showing important signs of a high quality stream restored to health. Gravel substrate has started to appear and cold-water species like rainbow trout have been observed in greater abundance since the dam removal. These fish move upstream from the Muskegon River and are now free to move up Twin Creek in search of cooler water temperatures and spawning habitat.

Todd Bruggema, director of the Evart Downtown Development Authority confirms this through first hand reports: “based on conversations I have had with local residents who have been fishing in this stream for a long time, the difference is significant. They see more fish and catch more with a rod and reel than ever before.

From the early days of this project, we have been grateful to work with an enthusiastic partner like Ice Mountain who demonstrates a commitment to natural preservation. “We appreciate the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly’s leadership as a voice for the Muskegon and convener and mobilizer of stakeholders behind critical projects throughout the watershed”, said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, Natural Resource Manager for Ice Mountain.

“Removing the obsolete Twin Creek dam and restoring more of the creek’s natural flow in the area — renews the ecological value of the creek, aids freshwater quality, and creates a natural community asset for recreation, learning, and outdoor enjoyment. Working together with the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly and other community partners, the Twin Creek Nature Area reflects Ice Mountain’s shared commitment to improving the Muskegon River watershed and its tributaries to protect water quality for wildlife and everyone who depends on this vital natural resource”, said Anderson-Vincent.

Twin Creek Nature Area Photos courtesy Patricia Tice Jarret