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Changes may be ahead for the Mississippi River Gorge

Posted on 25 July 2017 by calvin

Dam removal 09 panoramaWhen Lt. Zebulon Pike first explored the Upper Mississippi River Basin in 1805, he described the 8.5 mile stretch of the Gorge as one of continuous rapids. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Ford Dam (pictured here), one of two dams within the Gorge that have greatly altered the way the river flows. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

A public meeting was held on July 13 at St. Peder’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to discuss possible changes within the Mississippi River Gorge. Well over a hundred people attended the meeting, which 12th Ward Council member Andrew Johnson called to order. Representatives of government and non-profit agencies presented background information for the first hour, after which the meeting was opened up for questions.

“The 8½-mile-long Mississippi River Gorge begins at Upper St. Anthony Falls, drops 110’ over its course, and ends at the confluence with the Minnesota River,” explained National Park Superintendent Jon Anfinson. The Gorge is a unique part of the 72-mile-long Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Anfinson continued, saying, “Below the Gorge, the Mississippi is a floodplain river that extends to the Gulf of Mexico.

Dam removal 02Photo right: 12th Ward City Council member Andrew Johnson addressed the July 13 public meeting on the future of the Mississippi River Gorge. He emphasized that discussions about possible lock and dam removals are just in their beginning stages. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will decide by mid- August whether or not to embark on a two-year process called a “disposition study” for this stretch of the river. That study would determine if it is in tax payers’ best interests to continue paying for the Upper and Lower St. Anthony locks, and the Ford Lock and Dam within the Gorge. According to Nan Bischoff, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager, “the annual cost to taxpayers to operate, maintain, and repair these facilities is $1.5 million.”

The dam at Upper St. Anthony Falls is not part of the possible disposition study, as it belongs to Xcel Energy.

Dam removal 13Photo left: Following the public meeting, there was an opportunity to leave comments and ask questions of representatives of the NPS, the DNR, American Rivers, and Brookfield Energy—among others. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Brian Graber is a dam removal specialist with American Rivers, a regional organization out of Rock Island, IL. “Removing dams is an effective strategy,” Graber said. “Since 1999, 1,380 dams have been removed across the US. Of those, 49 have been removed in Minnesota; the national average for dam removals is 27 per state. There is no faster and more efficient way to bring a river back to health than to remove a dam.”

Mike Davis, a river ecologist with the DNR, said, “Everyone is worried about invasive species traveling upstream. The best way to stop invasive species is to clean up the river. We know that Bighead and Silver Carp have been seen in Minnesota waters but, to our knowledge, they have yet to reproduce here. Many of us believe that if water quality and native fish species were restored, the invasive species could be kept in check.”

Dam removal 06Photo right: Photo right: Lauren Crandall, president of the Minneapolis Rowing Club, delivered a prepared message. She said, “Our 300+ members are on the water more than 200 days/year. We have an award winning boathouse facility just north of the Lake St. Bridge, a site we’ve occupied since 1965. We believe that our club deserves a seat at the discussion table, and to date, we have not been included.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

One of the closing questions from the audience was, “Given the reality of global warming, and the pressing need for clean energy, why remove the Ford Dam which supplies hydropower for some 30,000 nearby homes?”

Contact Nan Bischoff, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program manager, at with questions or comments about the disposition study being considered.

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