Alternative to Dam Removal: Wisconsin Fish Passage Project Milwaukee River at Thiensville, Wisconsin


[Music playing] Faith: We’re at the Thiensville-Mequon Dam standing next to a very innovative fish passage project. It’s part of the National Fish Passage Program. I have Will Wawryzn standing with us who is gonna give a little overview of the site and what’s going on here today. Will: Thiensville-Mequon Dam is located about 20 miles upstream of the Milwaukee River confluence with Lake Michigan. Historically, the Milwaukee River Estuary was one of the most productive estuaries in the Lake Michigan basin for fish and wildlife, tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. Since European settlement, most, if not all, of that resource base has been lost through modifications, engineered banks, filling of the wetlands and so on. In addition, the lower 15 miles of this 20-mile reach of the Milwaukee River is heavily urbanized. Many of the tributary streams have been greatly modified primarily to account for changes in land use. They’ve been channelized, deepened, widened. Their hydrology has undergone some great modifications as a result of all the engineered storm-sewer drainage that goes into them. And so what we’re staring at here is probably the first major impediment to everyone’s goal of restoring sustainable fisheries from Lake Michigan, from the Milwaukee River Estuary upstream. From this point on, and a short distance downstream, a lot of that historical habitat, spawning habitat for some of our target species,
still exist. For example, Northern Pike, which are very dependent on wetland habitat for completing their spawning runs and juvenile development. We have an active restoration project for Lake Sturgeon, near the village of Newburg, with the DNR and the River Edge Nature Center folks. We know, for instance, that many of the sucker species, including Red Horse, and Smallmouth Bass will migrate tens of miles to reach historical spawning ground. So this is sort of the next major impediment that is gonna be eliminated on the lower Milwaukee River. Historically over 13 dams have been removed in the lower Milwaukee River Basin. There’s one that’s currently being removed in Grafton and another one, where the Ozaukee County staff is working with a number of different agencies to construct another fishway. This fishway is about 1100 feet long. It’s had to be increased by a length of about 66% because of riparian issues related to keeping a pool of water in perpetuity when they transferred ownership of the millway to the village. We’re at sort of the final tweaking phase of the project where we’re adjusting some of the elevations through the spine of the fishway, adjusting the dimensions of the channel to decrease velocities to make it easier for fish to move up the fishway. And, as a result, we’ll have a test flow through the system probably within the next week. Aside from making some final adjustments on the fishway itself, we’ll be doing some landscaping with native plants in the next couple of days, and we’ve also been fortunate to have a number of volunteers from the Milwaukee Service Community Center. Matt: Community Service Corps. Will: Service Corps. They’ve brought in at least 16 individuals to help us do some fine tuning on the weirs, as well as to adjust and make some modifications to the biologs for purposes of landscaping and bioengineered banks, as well as some volunteers from Milwaukee River Keepers and some residents in the basin, a total of 24 people today. So we’re very excited. They’ve made short notice on some of the last few items we had to complete for this project. Faith: Tom, tell us a little bit about the regional plan for the area. Tom: Sure. Projects like this are extremely vital because one of the things we found as part of the regional water quality management plan for the Great Lakes watersheds here which includes the Milwaukee, the Root and the Menomonee Rivers and the areas surrounding there, is that fragmentation due to dams and roadway, culverts, and bridges, among other aspects in these stream channels are absolutely fragmenting fisheries populations and decreasing their abilities to access areas for food and for shelter, and then for natural reproduction into certain areas. So it is a vital component and essential to the overall future for recovery of these species and for the abundance and diversity, and maintenance of the abundance and diversity, for native fishes, which is why the Recovery Act monies are so huge for the entire area and this region. [Music playing]

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