Old dams threaten downstream life

Capital News Service
LANSING — Since Michiganders drive on them every day, roads and bridges are often the first things that come to mind when it comes to the condition of Michigan’s infrastructure. Less visible – but just as hazardous if not properly maintained – are the state’s 2,500 dams.
Just as deteriorating roads and bridges can cause significant damage, aging dams in high-hazard locations have the potential to do great harm to the environment and to human life. The Otsego Township Dam on the Kalamazoo River is one such dam. It’s in poor condition and located in an area that would see serious consequences if the dam were to collapse. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said his department is removing the dam in conjunction with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

U.P. study shows long-term impact of beaver “engineering”

Capital News Service
LANSING — The North American beaver has been called “the quintessential ecosystem engineer,” and any doubters can look at the animal’s long-term environmental impact in the Upper Peninsula. Many of its engineering feats are still evident on the landscape after more than 150 years — longer than such other engineering marvels as the Eiffel Tower, the Mackinac Bridge, the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Toronto’s CN Tower have stood. The proof is visible in the continued existence of dozens of Ishpeming-area beaver ponds first mapped in 1868, according to newly published research. “This study shows remarkable consistency in beaver pond placement over the last 150 years, despite some land use changes that altered beaver habitats,” ecologist Carol Johnston wrote in the study. “This constancy is evidence of the beaver’s resilience and a reminder that beaver works have been altering the North American landscape for centuries.”
And in an interview, Johnston said a major lesson from the study is that beavers come back to the same spots on the landscape and reuse them time and time again.

Dams may be removed before they can fail

Capital News Service
LANSING — The recent failure of a northern Michigan dam puts a spotlight on the rest of the state’s aging inventory of water control structures. The dam on Big Sucker Creek in Emmet County’s Bliss Township forced the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to draw down the water of O’Neal Lake to investigate the cause of the failure. That left dry areas of the lake once used for fishing, canoeing and boating. O’Neal Lake dam’s failure raises questions about dams that inspectors have labeled “high hazard.”
Eighty-eight dams in Michigan previously received “high hazard” status following mandatory inspection. High hazard doesn’t mean a dam is about to fail.

Some dam projects funded, more rejected

Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan has more than 2,600 dams, many of which are not maintained and no longer serve a useful purpose, experts say. Many are considered unsafe due to risk of collapse. Unmaintained dams deteriorate, threatening homes, property and people downstream, said Chris Freiburger, a supervisor with the Fisheries Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “When we look at the number of dams we have and the age that we know of, it becomes a concern,” Freiburger said. “It’s a real infrastructure issue here that needs to be dealt with.”

The state recently targeted six dams — five in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula —to remove or repair using tax dollars.

State grant would pay for dam removal and maintenance

Capital News Serivce
LANSING — The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will spend $2.35 million for its dam management program in 2013, the first time the department has been granted money by the Legislature to address problems of aging dams.
The program will focus on dam removals and maintenance. Individuals, nonprofit organizations, and state and local government agencies would be eligible for grants. Michigan has more than 2,600 dams. More than 90 percent of them will reach or exceed their designed life by 2020, according to the department. Chris Freiburger, coordinator of the program, said many were built since the 1830s for purposes such as power generation and millponds. “Chunks of dams lacked regular maintenance because they don’t serve an economic purpose any more,” Freiburger said.