Moving on: Boardman River dam removal goes into Phase II

The Boardman River returns to its original channel upstream from the dam where a pond had been created by damming the river 90 years ago. Courtesy Photo.

The Boardman River returns to its original channel upstream from the dam where a pond had been created by damming the river 90 years ago. Courtesy Photo.


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




About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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2 Responses to Moving on: Boardman River dam removal goes into Phase II

  1. Hello Howard,

    Jeff Counts sent me your article and I thought I would send a comment your way. I have a place on the middle Boardman just above Shumsky Road, and most of what I have to say is anecdotal, from three decades of fishing the Boardman and being very closely familiar with the middle section from Garfield Road to Beitner. The river is still a mess. It carries a huge sand load and you can visibly see plumes of sand moving continuously, and the water has yet to clear. Miles of gravel beds have been changed from spawning grounds to sand formations much like those you see on the bottom of Lake Michigan. I have waded many times since the dam breach and can tell you it is very difficult footing. Fishing is definitely off this year, although I know the fish are still in the river, but insect activity has been marginalized. None of this is good for the river, and the idea that the implementation group will now “move on” might really mean they ignore what has happened. I have close friends who are working on the river, including Steve Largent and the great folks at the Watershed Center, so I have mixed feelings about being so caustic, but the damage has been done and must be repaired. On a legal basis, the remedy is to remove the sand from the river, whatever the cost to the larger body which insures the project. The long view is that in a hundred years the river will once again look and act like an actual river…which is wonderful. Selfishly, I don’t have that long, and would like to see steps taken to make it right.

    Additionally, the DNR has a steelhead agenda for the upper river which has been on their planning list for years. I was on the original Dam implementation group and from the first meeting it was obvious that the two DNR members were only interested in steelhead. As for the DEQ response to the dam breach, the evidence is partially there that they will not respond effectively. My experience over the years with the DEQ is that it rarely lives up to its mission in terms of environmental quality. I have no idea how long it will take the river to transport its sand load into larger bodies of water…certainly it might be in the realm of several years, if not decades. There is still a great deal of sand on the banks from the high water mark, and all of that sand will eventually find its way back into the river during heavy rain. I am deeply troubled by all of this and just thought you would like another perspective. Of course, if you would like to talk, please let me know.


    Mike Delp


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