After seeing recent events involving the failure of the Edenville dam in the Midland area and the resulting $200 million in damages, many residents have raised questions about dams in their towns. It has certainly got me thinking about dams near me. I live in a small town in SE Michigan. Our total population is only about 2000 people. For this small area, we have 8 dams. At least 2 of them powered sawmills and have not been used for energy production in decades. One of them provided power to a small Ford plant that closed about 60 years ago. While the practical purposes for these dams are long since gone, they remain.
It is also worth noting, that not one of these dams contains any type of fish ladder. If you have ever watched a video of a dam without a fish ladder you may have seen salmon and trout being thrown into a massive concrete wall. Many of these fish do not survive the trauma. The River Raisin runs through our town. It is a fairly large waterway that connects many small towns of SE Michigan to lake Erie. Along the river, from town to town you will find similar dams. A year ago, a 30″ Steelhead was caught in Monroe Michigan near the mouth of the River Raisin. I cannot help but wonder whether the presence of these obstructive dams lining the river’s path is preventing us from enjoying Steelhead runs in my small town.
The western part of the United States has had many folks fighting to remove dams in recent years. The Salmon and Trout of the Pacific coast is greatly threatened by being cut off from the inland rivers they use to spawn. Dam removal programs have proven to be a great success in areas with fisheries that are suffering. In areas where dams cannot be removed due to flood safety concerns, fish ladders and “salmon cannons” are being installed to ensure that fish can safely navigate these waterways and get upstream to spawn.
The manmade waterfalls by the dams in my town are popular spots for people to stop and appreciate the seeming beauty of the rushing water. However, I believe most people are blind to the harm that they are causing to our aquatic habitats. I truly hope that we see a day where dams can be removed safely, reopening our waterways and restoring the fisheries that once made up such a great part of our state. While folks enjoy sitting on bridges overlooking the dams, I have to expect that they would also enjoy sitting alongside the River Raisin on a cool summer evening listening to the sound of trout jumping into the air.