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Fixing the dams: Michigan is on an infrastructure support mission

As Environmental Engineer Mason Manuszak sees it, Michigan’s Dam Risk Reduction Grant Program (DRRGP) strengthens more than just Michigan’s aging dams.

An artist rendering shows the FishPass project planned to replace Traverse City’s Union Street Dam, with help from $1 million from Michigan’s Dam Risk Reduction Grant Program. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

An artist rendering shows the FishPass project planned to replace Traverse City’s Union Street Dam, with help from $1 million from Michigan’s Dam Risk Reduction Grant Program. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 


“This program helps accomplish our goals of strengthening relationships with dam owners and operators, reducing risk posed by dams, and above all, protecting human and environmental health,” said Manuszak, who works in the Dam Safety Unit of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “A program of this nature is vital to keeping Michigan’s communities and environment safe and healthy.”

Manuszak says look no further than the overwhelming demand for and response to a $14.1 million DRRGP funding opportunity announced this month. Twenty Michigan communities will receive grant funding for 22 projects to help reduce risks and protect residents in Allegan, Barryton, Battle Creek, Bellaire, Boyne Falls, Clare, Dundee, Elsie, Goodrich, Hesperia, Hopkins, Manistique, Newaygo, Nunda Township, Rose City, Stanton Township, Traverse City, White Cloud, Yankee Springs Township, and Ypsilanti. (Full details are in the linked press release.)

Traverse City received $1 million to help build the FishPass project at the Union Street Dam, the capstone of the Boardman/Ottaway River Restoration Project. The FishPass project will replace the deteriorating dam with a barrier that selectively allows certain fish species to pass while preventing invasive ones like sea lamprey.

“This grant award is another step toward our strategy to secure funding in full for the FishPass project,” said Frank Dituri, director of Traverse City’s Department of Public Services. “We eagerly anticipate seeing the project come to life this spring, as replacing the Union Street Dam is crucial for public safety.”

A 2021 state inspection rated the dam in fair to poor condition. The new, robust barrier will reduce the risk of dam failure and enhance flood control for the safety of residents and infrastructure. Construction is expected to finish by 2026.

“Aging dams pose a risk not only to life, limb, and property, but also to Great Lakes fisheries and ecosystems,” said Dr. Marc Gaden, executive secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “We are proud to partner with EGLE through the Dam Risk Reduction Program, because rehabilitating or replacing dangerous structures goes far beyond protecting people and property in the vicinity of dam. Projects like these also protect the Great Lakes by preventing the spread of harmful invasive species like sea lampreys.”

DRRGP grants provide dam owners with resources to properly manage dams and reduce the overall risk of dam failure in Michigan. Authorized work ranges from critical maintenance to dam removals.

Friday, May 31, is the Association of State Dam Safety Officials’ National Dam Safety Awareness Day, when policymakers, lawmakers, and citizens are asked to remember that dam safety is a shared responsibility and to recognize that the risks associated with dams can affect everyone. 

As a compelling reminder in Michigan, it was just four years ago, May 19, 2020, when flooding from heavy rains collapsed the Edenville Dam at Wixom Lake. The Sanford Dam downstream also overflowed, causing major flooding in Midland County. Damages have been estimated at more than $250 million, and a forensic report found lack of upkeep was a contributing factor.

Demand for grant dollars to address aging dam infrastructure has only grown since the DRRGP was created in 2022. In total, the Dam Safety Unit oversees the regulation of more than 1,000 structures. The unit continues to grow to meet the needs of dam owners and operators, recently expanding to seven full-time engineers to offer statewide coverage.

Additional funding opportunities will be made available for dam risk reduction and will be announced publicly when they are ready for applicants.

Learn more about the DRRGP and dam management in Michigan on EGLE’s Dam Safety Unit webpage.