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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bold Visions and Muddy Thoughts on WI Dams: The Afternoon Edition

This morning, I posted about some pretty big plans for sturgeon passage around hydro dams on the Menominee River. The afternoon edition brings another exciting announcement that NOAA just awarded $4.4 million for re-establishing fish passage along 158 miles of Milwaukee River and tributaries. The ambitious project will include:
  • Removal of the Lime Kiln Dam in the Village of Grafton;
  • Fish passage construction at the Bridge Street Dam in the Village of Grafton;
  • Fish passage construction at the Mequon-Thiensville Dam;
  • Reconstruction of stream crossings in biologically significant tributaries that are blocking fish migration as well as removal of smaller migration impediments such as debris and invasive plants.
The grant was submitted by Ozaukee County in partnership with the City of Mequon and Villages of Grafton and Thiensville and the DNR. Culverts are under the jurisdiction of Ozaukee County, the City of Mequon, the Towns of Cedarburg, Fredonia, Grafton, and Saukville, and the Villages of Fredonia, Grafton, Saukville, and Thiensville.

The end result of this impressive project will be to reconnect over 35 miles of Milwaukee River, 11 miles of the north branch of the Milwaukee River, 112 miles of quality tributaries and more than 14,000 acres of wetlands. Only one small but big impediment stands between this renewed system and the mighty Lake Michigan: Estabrook Dam, whose fate is currently being pondered by Milwaukee County.

Such big and bold thinking about dams is typical of Wisconsin. And it also makes a recent budget veto by the Governor all the more befuddling. The Legislature presented a budget amendment which would reinstate the DNR's authority to recommend fish passage at dams where important fish species are impacted. This amendment also removed the requirement that taxpayers of Wisconsin pony up part of the cost of fish passage on private dams that harmed rivers. Governor Doyle vetoed this amendment, despite support of the Legislature and the DNR. There isn't some long history of cost-sharing fish passage here: this requirement was snuck into the budget by a vindictive legislator eight years ago and its removal would have presented a significant cost-savings to our heavily-in-debt state. Fish passage is an essential piece of the picture at dams on our most biologically productive rivers. What a shame to have squandered an opportunity to right this wrong.

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