History of Michigan's Dams

Dams have been built and rebuilt across Michigan to meet a variety of needs that reflect the evolution of the State's economy and society over the decades. Dams have been built to transport logs and other goods, to generate electricity and to run milling operations. Dams have been built to provide reliable year round water supplies for irrigation, domestic use and for navigation and recreational uses. Dams have also been built to provide flood control, debris control, and to hold mine tailings. Many state and federally owned dams in Michigan provide water control for waterfowl and fisheries management purposes. It is estimated that we have over 2,500 dams in Michigan.

Of the 2500 or so dams in Michigan, only about 114 are utilized for hydropower production. Most of the hydropower dams and related facilities are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with the exception of a few small projects that do not provide energy to the regional power grid. Hydropower dams only provide about 1.5% of the power produced in Michigan because Michigan's rivers are relatively small and flat in comparison to the larger projects in Eastern and Western States. All together, the hydropower dams produce only about 400 megawatts of power (MW). The 10 largest hydro dams in Michigan, only 10% of all hydro dams, produce about 47% of the hydropower in the State. Hydropower production is a very small component of Michigan's energy production and is unlikely to grow significantly, in fact several additional hydropower projects may be retired in the coming decades as has been the trend since at least the 1960's when Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison divested many of their smallest and least efficient hydropower dams. These many retired hydropower dams are now State or municipally owned projects that have not produced power for many years and are often in serious disrepair.