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Use caution on unstable bottomlands, do not burn vegetation around failed Mid-Michigan dams


April 21, 2021

Local, state approvals may be necessary for access or activities

With warmer weather here, residents who were affected by the Mid-Michigan dam failures are reminded to check local and state rules before taking part in any activity on the lake and river bottomlands that are now exposed due to lower water levels.

Vegetation and trees have sprouted in areas that were formerly covered by water along the river and lake system that was created by four dams in Gladwin and Midland counties. As a result, the exposed bottomlands may not be stable and could be dangerous to walk or drive on.

"The terrain of the now exposed bottomlands is a dangerous place for recreating, fires can spread quickly, accidents can happen and the first responders lack proper access to assist," said Jay Eickholt, emergency management coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). "Please follow all posted guidance and recreate in appropriate ways this summer."

The Edenville and Sanford dams failed in May 2020, dramatically lowering the water levels in the impoundments behind the two dams, the Smallwood and Secord dams upstream and on the Tittabawassee and Tobacco rivers and local streams. Additional bottomlands have also been exposed following emergency work completed in February to lower the Tobacco spillway on the Edenville Dam, bringing water levels down by as much as 12 feet.

Plant growth is a natural process and can stabilize the exposed land areas and minimize erosion. Vegetation should be allowed to grow wherever possible and residents should seek permission before removing plants or trees. Apply for the necessary EGLE permits and check with the Four Lakes Task Force, which owns the dams and the bottomlands, before clearing vegetation not on private property or performing other projects.

Do not burn any material unless permitted by local authorities and follow all local ordinances for waste disposal. Debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and spring is a dangerous time for wildfires. Read EGLE's open burning webpage to learn more about regulations and permits.

EGLE provides a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document for residents concerned about sprouting and growing vegetation, including:

  • Can herbicides be used to control plants? The safe use of herbicides under the appropriate regulations can effectively remove unwanted vegetation and invasive plant species. Avoid treating native vegetation as it plays an important role in stabilizing area sediments, filtering runoff water and providing habitat and food for wildlife.
  • Is a permit is needed to use herbicides to treat vegetation? It depends on how close to the water body the herbicide will be applied and over how large of an area. A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) or Aquatic Nuisance Control (ANC) permit may be needed.
  • Can I cut trees or vegetation? It is recommended that only invasive plants be cut down to allow for native vegetation to become established. Plants offer many benefits such as soil stability, homes for wildlife and habitat diversity.
  • Can I burn my green waste? Prescribed burns should be conducted only by trained experts. Proximity to homes, stability and safety of the area and dry conditions are all significant reasons not to burn trees, brush or vegetation. All state and local guidelines must be followed.
  • How do I know if plants are invasive? Some invasive species could find the area attractive for growth, including reed canary grass, phragmites, common buckthorn, and glossy buckthorn. Consult the Midwest Invasive Species Network for information (MISIN) on how to identify invasive plant species.
  • What types of activities need a permit? Filling, dredging, and other construction activities need an approved permit from EGLE before work begins.

The FAQ includes links for more information about invasive species and to local and state resources.

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