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DNR reports partial failure of 'low hazard' dam on Net River in Baraga County

A view of the partially washed out embankment and berm surrounding an earthen dam, with mucky water several feet down

Several state, county and local officials are on the scene at the Net River Flooding State Wildlife Management Area in Baraga County (south of Covington and north of Crystal Falls) to assess the partial failure of the Net River dam, located on the south outlet of the Net River Flooding. The area is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A person visiting the area Wednesday evening noticed the washed-out area around the dam and berm and contacted the local DNR Wildlife Field Office.

“Initial examination of the site suggests that, at some point over the last few days, the Net River Dam experienced a partial failure due to corrosion of the water control structure in the middle of the dam, and that caused a sinkhole to develop,” said Bill Scullon, DNR wildlife operations field manager. “The good news is that both the upstream and downstream embankments appear to be solid and are currently retaining the impoundment water just as they are designed to do.”

Scullon said the Net River dam is in a remote area of the Upper Peninsula and is considered “low hazard” – meaning a failure poses low risk to public safety, property and environment. The road that crosses the top of the dam is used by several private camp owners to access their property, and DNR staff already has been in contact with some of those property owners.

In addition to DNR wildlife and forestry staff, several agencies are involved or aware:

  • Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy dam inspectors and contractors are determining next steps to diminish continued erosion and are beginning the work to properly secure the sinkhole and backfill the impoundment.
  • DNR parks and recreation staff is providing barricades for public safety, including for those who regularly visit the small boating access site at this location.
  • DNR conservation officers and Michigan State Police officers have been on-site to assist with any safety issues.

There are three bridges downstream of the Net River dam: two are on U.S. 141 and the other is a railroad bridge. Officials don’t expect the bridges will be affected, but local authorities including the Baraga County Sheriff’s Office, the Iron County Sheriff’s Department, the Baraga County Emergency Management Department and the Iron County Emergency Management Department have been notified. Authorities at the Paint River Dam, in Crystal Falls, also have been alerted; they are making room for any additional water that could flow their way if the dam fails.

Scullon said the situation is stable and will be monitored for the foreseeable future. The DNR Wildlife Division conducted a fly-over Thursday afternoon to get an aerial view in order to ensure there are no unforeseen risks to public safety downstream.

He said, too, that the Net River Flooding is a culturally important impoundment that supports a variety of fish and wildlife, and the area has benefited from a habitat restoration partnership with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

“The situation at the Net River dam should pose no concern for area fish and wildlife,” Scullon said. “The amount of water moving through this structure is normal, and nothing we’ve seen downstream is unusual for what we would expect this time of year.”

The Net River dam was inspected in August 2020 and received a rating of fair.

Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

  • Net River dam failure: A view of the washed-out area around the dam and berm, resulting from a failed water control structure. The dam is located on the south outlet of the Net River Flooding, which is inside the Net River Flooding State Wildlife Management Area in Baraga County. 
  • Net River dam failure2: Another perspective of the Net River dam in Baraga County. Shown here is the washed-out road atop the dam, used by some private property owners to access their camps. 
  • Net River - map location
  • Net River - map location (zoomed-out view)

Note about the Net River maps: "Net River Flooding" (as labeled on the maps) refers to the impoundment of water intentionally created by the Net River dam. Net River Flooding is the name of the area.

Media contact: Bill Scullon (DNR), 906-250-6781