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Federal, state agencies, and private sector team up to restore Kalamazoo River at former dam site

Former Otsego Township dam site almost entirely restored

The removal of a failing century-old dam has restored a stretch of the Kalamazoo River closer to its natural state, improved angling and water sport opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Federal and state government agencies, along with the private sector, teamed up to remove the Otsego Township dam and remove pollutants that had accumulated in the river sediment.

"All these efforts are now complete, and the river and floodplain system are now better than they were since before the dam was originally constructed – in terms of its ecological functioning," says John Riley, of EGLE's Water Resources Division. "Fishing and paddling opportunities have vastly improved as well."

The challenge was great: the dam, owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was over 100 years old and failing.

The State of Michigan provided $1.2 million from its dam management grant fund, along with $2.4 million from a settlement for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, to remove the structure and route the river back to its original channel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Superfund program ordered a Time Critical Removal Action to remove PCB contaminated sediments in the impoundment and required potentially responsible parties to assist with the dam removal.

In 2018, EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) provided an additional $275,000 in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds to complete the demolition and removal of the former spillway and restore floodplain habitat.

A 2010 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from GLNPO provided support for engineering and design work for the dam removal.

In all, the remedial work, including contaminant removal, stabilizing the stream banks and restoring the floodplain in the area, cost an estimated $35 million.

Dam removals provide access to upstream feeding and spawning habitat for fish and other wildlife. Free-flowing waters provide the valuable ecological functions of sediment and nutrient transport and allow for mussels to propagate more widely.

The Otsego Township dam was constructed in the early 1900s for purposes of hydroelectric power production. Ownership of the dam was transferred from Consumers Power to the State of Michigan in 1967. The structure was in a state of disrepair for many years and was in the early stages of failure when it was finally removed. The particular location for construction of the dam was chosen due to the relatively rapid stream bed elevation change at that location, creating swift-moving flow for hydrologic power. For the same reason, now that the structure is gone, this stretch of river is a fun and interesting section for recreational paddlers.

"This project is a great example of the dramatic impact that can take place when federal and state agencies work with the private sector," added Riley. "The natural resources and human use and enjoyment of the Kalamazoo River will continue to improve and benefit from this project for generations to come."

The project is separate from an agreement announced December 11 to clean up contaminated sediment from a different section of the river. That $245 million agreement requires NCR Corp. to clean up and fund future response actions at a significant portion of the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund site.

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