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A Dam Problem (Part 3)

A Dam Problem (Part 3)

Chris Pierce works to remove a dam on the Manistee River. (Photo by Dustin Dwyer)

Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 06/27/2011

All this week, we're focusing on stories about fish for our series, "Swimming Upstream." Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula for the series, and for today's story, he went to the site of a former trout farm along the headwaters of the Manistee River, near Grayling. Dustin went to learn about the complex world of dam removal:

The Flowing Well trout farm was built half a century ago. Dotted along the river here are a number of little dams, each one only 4 or 5 feet high, built out of simple wood planks. But if you're a fish, this might as well be the Hoover.

"You cannot swim from down there to up there. You cannot access the miles and miles of river that we have upstream of here because the dam blocks fish passage."

Mark Tonello is a fish biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says dams like the one we're standing next to give fish less space to feed and less space to spawn. Dams also warm the water, which makes it harder for fish to survive.

Over the past decade or so, people have started to take this dam issue more seriously, and there's a big push to get rid of old dams.

But the work can be surprisingly tedious.

One group that's taken up the cause is the Conservation Resource Alliance.

Chris Pierce is a biologist with the CRA. I look on as he and another biologist carefully remove a single wooden plank from the dam.

"You really want to remove the impoundments and the boards, or whatever type of structure is holding the water back, as slow as possible."

Dustin: “That's really not as exciting. Dynamite would be much more fun.” (both laugh)

But Pierce says a quick, explosive demolition would release a lot of sediment. A lot of times in Michigan, that sediment holds some pretty nasty toxins.

This one board is all the crew will remove for the day.

(chainsaw sound)

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