By Howard Meyerson
TRAVERSE CITY – Anglers and paddlers can once again access the Boardman River in the vicinity of the former Brown Bridge Dam which was removed in the fall and winter of 2012.
State and other officials say the precaution signs have come down and bank restoration work continues along the river, but the popular Traverse City area trout stream is once again flowing in its historic channel. Meanwhile brown trout and brook trout are being found up and downstream of the old dam site.
“There don’t seem to be any significant impacts to the fishery,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, Todd Kalish said about an accidental sediment release last October during initial stages of dam deconstruction. “In fact there are some good impacts. The new segment has been surveyed by our staff and there are brown trout and brook trout now. They weren’t there in the past.”
An early June survey by DNR staff found many young-of-the-year brook trout and brown trout, and one 19-inch and 20-inch brown trout. Finding young fish is significant, Kalish said. It means brook trout and brown trout successfully produced a year class in the area directly downstream of former dam and impoundment.
Dams warm water
Trout need cool, clean waters to thrive. In past years those waters would have been too warm. Waters impounded by dams typically are warmed by the sun and become home to warm-water species like bass. Removing a dam allows the river to flow naturally and resume its normally cooler temperature ranges.
Brown Bridge Dam stood for more than 90 years. Its construction began in 1921. Removing it is part of a multi-year local, state, tribal and federal plan to remove three dams along the river and modify a fourth.
“Construction work on Brown Bridge Dam ended in December and the river was opened in April,” said Chuck Lombardo, spokesperson for the coalition of partners working to remove the dams. “Now we are in the process of planning for Phase II, removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams.”
Work on those dams is expected to begin in 2014. Funding is currently being sought. It will cost $10 million to remove the two dams and $3 million more to replace and relocate the Cass Road Bridge over the Boardman dam. Grand Traverse County received a $3 million Michigan Department of Transportation grant to cover the project, Lombardo said.
Removing the Brown Bridge Dam cost $4.2 million. Removing it restored 2.5 miles of river channel.
Fish passage issue ahead
Public discussions are planned for the fate of the fourth dam, the Union Street Dam in Traverse City. That dam controls which fish species move upstream and serves as a sea lamprey barrier.
“One option is stopping fish at the Union Street dam. Another is to put a fish barrier in at Sabin Dam or at Bitner Rd. We are going to need to have the fish passage issue settled before we start deconstruction of the other dams,” Kalish said.
At issue is the question of which species to allow further upstream. Only “jumping fish” like coho salmon, steelhead or Chinook salmon can get past it now.
Kalish said the DNR would like to see other species in the river like Great Lakes sturgeon or muskies. Moving the barrier upstream would open up five miles of water and allow muskies, perch and other species into Boardman Lake and additional spawning habitat.
But leaving the Union Street dam open for those species also means sea lampreys would move upstream. That, in turn, means more public money will be spent to treat additional miles of the river with lampricide and possibly result in more lamprey in Lake Michigan.
“In Lake Michigan we have a target number for lamprey,” Kalish said. “We are above those numbers now in terms of lake trout wounding. Anything that would increase lamprey in the lake is a serious concern.”
Public discussion coming
Kalish said the DNR will organize a public forum for discussion about that question before moving ahead.
“We hope to have that discussion this summer,” Kalish said. “We are going to need a barrier. But I would like to have something in place that given changing preferences, will meet the needs of people 20 years from now.”
Taking down Brown Bridge Dam involved moving 260,000 cubic yards of sediment. The accidental release last October at the start of the Brown Bridge Dam deconstruction was due to a breach in a dewatering structure erected to manage the drawdown of Brown Bridge pond. That breach allowed 5,700 to 7,500 cubic yards of sediment to spill downstream, according to Brian Jankowski, water resources supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Cadillac office.
“That was a lot more than expected and more than what was permitted,” Jankowski said. “We did write a violation notice for discharge of excessive sediment. The outcome of that will be seen after the investigation is complete.”
This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News
© 2013 Howard Meyerson