Dam To Provide Safety, Better Habitat On Mississippi River
Dams can help regulate water levels during drought and floods, but may negatively impact wildlife. The recently completed Knutson Dam in the Chippewa National Forest will improve both areas while also providing safety.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony today, the US Forest Service was joined by its project partners from the Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership and Ottertail Power Company. The groups celebrated the completion of the project and a new fishing dock that was installed over the summer.
“I think this is going to benefit all of the public, tribal and non-tribal,” said Rich Robinson, the director of the leech Lake Division of Resource Management.
In 2011, an inspection of the previous barrier-type dam, found significant structural deficiencies and posed a problem for walleye and white sucker spawning in the spring.
“In most flow conditions they could not navigate past the previous structure,” said Jon Hodgson, a forest engineer for the Chippewa National Forest. He added that that while traditional fish ladders may work for salmon, other types of fish can not ‘jump’ as high, which is why this design was chosen.
In a study conducted by the DNR, it found a barrier dam at the beginning of a river eliminates about 40 percent of fish populations.
“Conversely when we remove those barriers, we see those fish and mussels come back,” said Luther Aadland, a river scientist for the Department of Natural Resources. Aadland says mussels latch on to fish moving upstream. They play a significant role in filtering water and removing harmful bacteria from the ecosystem.
Through his work at the DNR, Aadland also found that one traditional style dam was responsible for 19 drowning deaths.
“This design eliminates that hydraulic roller that can be so dangerous, so it’s a safer place,” Aadland said.
Looking forward, the rolling rapids structure will also help manage water levels to a more natural flow, unlike before.
“We’ve had a good season so far. [Water levels] been able to stay right around our summer target elevations,” said Hodgson. “The structure has performed as we had hoped.”
These levels will have a profound impact down stream. A steady flow will affect people and communities who depend on the Mississippi River for a clean water source, fishing and an economic resource.
“There are over 17 million people who rely on drinking water that comes from the Mississippi watershed,” said Darla Lenz, a forest supervisor. “So no small number of people are impacted by the Mississippi River.”