Harnessing The Headwaters — First Dams on the Mississippi

Harnessing the Headwaters: First Dams
on the Mississippi is made
possible by the Arts and Cultural
Heritage Fund. Water binds us all together.
It is the universal solvent. Water is one of the few factors in common for
all life on our planet. Here in north central Minnesota. The Mississippi River
is a twisting turning thread
that ties us not only to our geography and
our environment, but our
history our past and our future. Harnessing the
Headwaters of the Mississippi with dams wrote our story
as Minnesotans. The power of
the great river that drove 19th century
commerce in the Twin Cities fed
and built a new nation. Doing so displaced indigenous
peoples and changed a
landscape and lakeshore for wildlife but with time came adaptation. PPCome along with Lakeland PublicppTelevision and explore the times and tales of
these first dams on the
Mississippi. The U S Army Corps of Engineers,
the federal agency that created these first dams on the Mississippi
still manages these structures
and the reservoirs they have created. We met with PPPatrick Moes of the Army Corpsppof Engineers at the current concrete structure
at Big Sandy Lake northeast of Aitkin, MN. My primary
responsibility is to inform and educate the public and
the tax payers for that matter what the Corps of Engineers is doing in their
backyard. We have a lot of
responsibility obviously one is dam safety.
With that encompasses water safety. I’m constantlyppreminding people to wear their life jackets while on the water.
One of the other key components of the Mississippi headwaters dams
is obviously working with the local partners, whether
it would be travel liaisons ??? associations,
local counties,
municipalities. Working to solve the water issues of todayPPas well as tomorrow. I don’tppthink you can quantify any of the dams as being more
important than the rest. They
will all designed to work in concert.
So the 6 reservoirs that we do continue to maintain. They all have
their unique charm. It was once told to me that if you visit each
of the reservoirs and stay a
while, you are going to find one that you love and you PPwill treat it as your home andppyou will never go back to another one.
It is so true. Cross Lake is my personal favorite cause
I have family with a little
girl Just because it has a great recreation
area. Winnie is very remote huge cedar trees line the park.
It’s just beautiful. Leech is the same way. Leech has
an access directly to the
lake. So if you have a fortunate pleasure
of owning a boat you can park it in it’s own little bay area
and be able to take that
directly to the lake where you can
catch a trophy muskie. You start looking at Gull Lake they’rePPknown for walleye fishing.ppThere is some pretty well known resorts on the Gull LakePPchain of lakes as well. WhiteppFish chain of lakes is no different. They all have their unique
characteristics. We invite
everyone to visit and share it. You know
the initial vision of our first district commander Major GeneralppGouverneur Warren who was a hero of Gettysburg. The recent
150 year anniversary of Little Round Top basically saved
the Union army. He became our
first district commander. His first
initial vision of the
headwaters was to have a little bit more than 30 dams
in the region to provide that
water supply that was critical to not only
the loggers but the millers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Ray Nelson is a scholar and a
gentlemen he served his nation honorably workingPPfor the Corps of Engineers forppmore than 30 years. Much of that time we worked ppdirectly with community outreach with our outdoor program,
interpretative work He has a wealth of knowledge
in the Lewis and Clark area. He provides a ray of sunshine every opportunity that I get to
speak with him. He is a true
American hero in my opinion. The primary reasonppfor the headwater dams was river flow. What occurred
back in the mid 1800’s Minneapolis/St. Paul was the
fledgling years of growing into
cities. There were made through industries
which were flour and lumber in
particular. Water transportation
was major transportation routes for everybody at that
time. So the major players like Pillsbury,
railroaders came into a little bit. But politics is
always part of every story. They went to the politicians and
said we have a problem here. We have this product to transport
to these thriving communities along the Mississippi River and back east ppbut we can’t get them there, in particular late July and August
cause the Mississippi River
dries up. We can walk right across
and not even get wet. We need to come up with some plan
for us to have a 3 foot
navigation channel for our boats to
do all this transportation. When I talk about a 3 foot navigation channel
I’m talking about the depth of the Mississippi River at the time. Instead of
having 3 inches to paddle a
boat in you would have 3 feet so your barge
or boat would not be running
aground. basically. So it’s depth
not width. Well anyway they got a hold of the Corps of Engineers who
were fledgling organization in
the mid 1800’s. They sent some engineers
up to the headwaters to do surveys of these natural
lakes. In particular to see if they
could put dams on these lakes they are all connected
to the Mississippi River and try to estimate what type of dam to build
and how much water they could
get into the Mississippi River by doing so.
The first dam that was
completed was 1884 at Leech Lake and Winnie
and Pokegama basically all the same year.
These structures were wood
structures They were not concrete structures,
we have to realize that concrete still was not something that
was used for dam building. These dams started holding water back from thePPlakes and putting it in theppriver. . They could see that there was some success here. There was
some water flow that was
continuing down the stream past
Minneapolis/ St Paul providing water that was not quite acceptable
but close to acceptable. They still wanted that 3 foot channel. So thenPPthey went to Congress and saidppwe need more dams and we have places like
Sandy Lake here. Pine River
dam on Cross Lake, Gull Lake. So they
said okay will approve
structures there as well. So they
ended up building the Pine River Dam at Cross Lake
and the Sandy Lake one. Bingo! They got these dams completed and thePPwater flow from these naturalpplakes was enough were now reservoirs were providing
a 3 foot navigation channel on
the Mississippi. This worked out
really well for the types of
boats at that time of our country history.
As time goes on of course more cities communities are startingPPto get built along ourpptributaries. and Mississippi River.
Minneapolis/St. Paul is growing leaps and bounds.
So they said 3 foot is not going to be enough and we are going to have PPto look at something better a 6ppfoot channel at least. In the 1930’s
locks and dams started being built. A series of locks and dams
which is a staircase on the Mississippi River for barges
and things like that to take
goods. So in the 30’s the
Mississippi Headwaters ones
here all of a sudden were more minor.
They really weren’t as
necessary The dam tenders that were still managing
these dams up here in the
headwaters had people knocking on their door
and saying can we pitch a tent out here in your front yard so
we can access the lake to go
fishing. Can we spend a vacation here?
Do you have a bathroom we can use? All of these little types PPof necessities were starting topppop up. The dam tenders would say well
I guess fine. They would get
approval from the colonel or whoever
was in charge of the district. Nationwide other dams had been built in the
meantime and they were having
the same thing occur there as well.
So finally in the ’50’s and
early 60’s recreation was just taking a hold all over this country. Something had toPPbe done because a handfulppturned into 50, 60, 100 people wanting
to camp and use facilities that weren’t there. They had to come up ppwith an organized recreation program for the Corps of Engineers
and they did. Presto, Boom! After many years all of sudden the
Corps of Engineers was one of
the leading recreation producers in the country.
Now today because of the
ownership around these reservoir and lakes
is not government ownership it’s private ownership. Real estate
on lakes is huge dollars now. People buy lakeshore
with this is an investment The lake level is this today
and when I decide to sell it in 20 years and 30 years. I want it to remain thePPsame I don’t want to see anyppchange. The dams are important to a lot of
people that built homes with the understanding that this
was going to be this way for
perpetuity. Basically for the rest of their lives and their
grandchildren would live. Be
able to have the same thing. So the Corps
tries to manage that summer
band?? for the entire to try to keep nobody
flooded anywhere if possible. One of the first dams on
the Mississippi is the Power
Dam. east of Bemidji, MN. The Army Corps
of Engineers does not manage
this structure. It is owned and operated
by the Otter Tail Power
Company. While this is the first hydro electric
dam on the mighty river The interest of property owners,
recreational boaters and
environmental concerns remain in the forefront.
Darren Matetich of Otter Tail takes us on a tour. What I do
with the dam is I control we control the water levels from
Lake Bemidji and Stump Lake
here. Try to maintain it as a steady level. On Lake Bemidji
what we do is we try to
maintain a foot and a half variance from a high water
level to a low water level. We
try to maintain that all year around. We do
drop down in the late winter
early spring to accommodate the run off. Then things PPusually level out in theppsummertime. Is it dangerous beyond that.
We’ve just seen a canoe going around there and everything. Is there a PPdanger area here? There is appdefinite danger area. This is where the flow comes out of the PPdam. So there is current here.ppIt’s the river flowing. That’s why we have the danger buoys
out there. We would like people
to stay outside of the buoys. Make sure they stay safe. PPWe don’t want anybody near theppdam. Cause it is a very dangerous area.
Why the water backs up here these are the gates that we controlPPthe flow with on the lakes andppthe river. We’ll walk down here and
take a look at them. So nowadays what we do is we
have a wrench that we come out with. We can put it right on here.
Just with an electric drill and we can lower and raise these gates up.
In the past they used to be wooden planks that we would have to physicallyPPcome out, grab a hold of andpppick them up and pull them out one at a time. All the way down PPthe length of the dam toppcontrol the flow. There is definitely a lot more flow
in the spring then there is
right now. It’s pretty light right now. There is still a bit of
noise with it even now though
isn’t there? It is it is Gets noisy. Usually you won’t be able toPPsee the rocks and everythingppdown there. if it flowing hard. It’s kind of boiling there
then is it? Almost like a
cauldron when it’s really rolling. It’s a very
dangerous place you can imagine getting stuck in one of the gates. Your
message to people who are
using the river is don’t even come beyond
the first buoy then. I would
stay back of the buoys make sure you stay
safe. We don’t want anybody
getting hurt obviously. If a person wants to portage around here how would they do that?
We do have a portage set up
around the dam. Come down the
river and right over here out
a ways from the buoy there is a portage location ppand you can walk your canoe or your kayak down around
the sub station and then you come down and there is a DNR landing
right down on the bottom of
the river there. Okay. There is a walking portage
around the structure This was the lock on the north end.
From what we can dig up as far as the history. This end was the
lock when they were hauling logs that’s the side they used to run them down to get PPthem into the river and floatppdown the river. There has been a number of
additions to the concrete in the last few years.
The wall over here, that whole
wall was all redone with concrete.
I wasn’t here in ’88 but I
never did get to see with just
the rock and timber. Our max output is around
550-600 kw Which is a little bit more than
a half a megawatt. It’s not
alot it’s a couple of smaller units in there.
But it is output. It is expensive to maintain also.
The flow of the Mississippi headwaters continues it’s journey
from the Power Dam to a
structure controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers
on Lake Winnibigoshish. The
Lake Winnie Dam. Jeffrey Kleinert of
the Army Corps of Engineers tends to the dam and manages
the recreation area. The
Mississippi actually runs in from Cass Lake
through Knutson Dam that’s owned by the forest service.
Then after coming through
Winnie itself through the middle of the lake it reaches PPWinnie Dam here and we put theppwater back into more of a river channel instead ofPPin the middle of the lake. Butppwhen you actually take a boat out on Winnie you can find
the old river channel at the
bottom of the lake. Because before the dam was built,
it was a lake it just wasn’t this high. So you can still see at the bottom PPof the lake the old riverppchannel especially on this end. The original
dam was made of wood in 1884 and again in the early 1900’s
it was made out of concrete and improved. This one
received a face lift in about 1990. We took all
of the wooden soft logs out and put steel gates in.
Also we put in concrete bulk heads on the sides of the
sluice gate to take up that
space. They have hooks on the top so they
are decided to have a crane
pull the entire bulkhead out at one time. If you want ppto move that much water we can. Winnie is roughly
70,000 surface acres It’s kind of shaped like a big stomach.
With that large of a lake it’s hard to control large
fluctuations in the lake with a dam of this size. Because it’s reallyPPnot that large of a dam for applake that size. So you have to anticipate
your need ahead of time and it takes longer to get to where
you want to go. It’s also like
a giant bathtub you get a lot of wind especially
west, northwest, blows in
toward the dam. It kind of sloshes like a
giant bathtub so you get an
artificial high reading if you get
a west, northwest wind. So you have to take that into account to.
People should remember too the dam isn’t really just the concrete. ppThe dam is actually roughly a mile long and goes all the way from
the resorts on the other side
clear to this side It’s a clay embankment but it’s packed
and made out of impervious clay so water doesn’t pass through it. The concrete
part is actually the outlet
works. The thing that we use to control
the flow. So some people say the dam but it’s really the
large embankment itself is the
dam. If you look through the woods over
there you will see a little
building. Back in the 60’s that was owned over
there by the state of
Minnesota. The Minnesota Conservation Department long
before the DNR was the DNR. But
they had a large cells back there
about 9 of them and they reared minnows for stocking
in various lakes. Over time some of those became grown up
and they didn’t use them
anymore and then the t tribe, Leech Lake
Natural Resources group came to
us and said how about you sell that land PPover there to us and we’llppsubdivide a couple or three of those into smaller onesPPand we’ll use them for rearingppour own fry for stocking in lakes in the reservation. PPSo now that over there is ownedppby the tribe. We own right to the toe of the dam PPand you can see the tube comingppout There is always some what coming
from the control structure over
there that feeds water to their cells.
Actually it’s a gravity feed
from the lake. Cause there is a tube that actually goes right
through the dam and there is a
valve in there and that controls the water feeding
right from the lake over to that control structure and then
the extra just comes right
back out to the river. Below Winnie dam we have a day use area.
We have a picnic shelter that people can have a group picnic in. PPWe have picnic tables and standppup grills if they just want to have a small picnic
with a family. We have
playground equipment and a brand new fish cleaning station
for people to clean their
fish. There is 22 campsites with electricity. We havePPrunning water and a dumpppstation for them to dump
at the end of their stay. I guess that I’d just say that
Winnie is one of the premier walleye and perch fisheries
in the world. It is really generates our visitation for this
site is mostly in May and June centered around that fishing.
Our journey continues from Lake Winnie to Leech Lake.
The Leech Lake Dam is located
in the town of Federal Dam, MN 8 miles south
of the historic Venus door. So we are here at the Leech Lake Dam
on Leech Lake and I’m with Timm Rennecke from the Army Corps of
Engineers. Timm we are going
to hear a little bit about this dam that you are
responsible for here. It’s
operated by US Army Corps of Engineers
and it’s one of 6 of the Mississippi River project,
the 2nd one constructed in the series of 6 for the MIssissippi Headwaters
by the Corps of Engineers. Was this a difficult dam to
construct? Yeah the history recollects
many challenges of the time because there weren’t a lot of highways
or roads coming up to this
remote area. So even though concrete
was being utilized in the late 1800’s, this dam
was constructed with earth and clay and wooden
control structures because it was too difficult to get concrete
up here back at the time. The US government
had an interest on the upper Mississippi River to raise
the water levels for navigation and milling, industrial use.
I know the flour mills in the Twin Cities,
St Paul area needed higher water to get boats further up in to like St Anthony Falls,
up into the area in
Minneapolis. The government first authorized
the Mississippi Headwaters project and eventually six dams
got constructed up here.
This was the 2nd of the 6 to be constructed.
So they did serve their
original purpose but now they are more utilized
for flood damage reduction recreation, fish and wildlife management. ppSo now you find yourself running a recreation site
and tell me a little bit what that is like. Well it goes along kind
of with the recreation business. The Corps of Engineers
can provide services to the public through
leases and concessions that the government can’t provide
on it’s own. So really what they are, they are private businessPPon corps land on governmentppland to provide services.
And the boat liveries the same as we would call
marinas today. But back in the
mid 20th century these boat liveries along the waterfrontpphere at Federal Dam provide some really neat
recreational opportunities to
people from the midwest, Chicago, Minneapolisppand all over. They would come up on the trains and get off
here at Federal Dam and these concessionaires,
boat liveries would take people out fishing and on launches
and provide a recreational experience that was
back then very unique. Of course it’s evolved more
to what were use to today where people have
cabins and lake homes The economics of that
business has changed a lot since then. But still today
Tonga’s Launch Service still exists here on the waterfront,
providing boat launches for people. It’s really neat,
because when you see their
business it’s still brings back the
memories and the history of the good old fashion Mom and
Pop resorts and that up north Minnesota experience
that used to… or still goes on but really took off decades
ago. As far as I know these
boat liveries, these concessionaires here at Federal Dam
were the first in the Corps of
Engineers. Leech Lake Dam and the community
that reflects it’s origin Federal Dam had a veritable
cast of characters in their
local citizens. Russell Lego
a lifelong resident of Federal
Dam recounts some living history for us.
Lego has tales from his youth working at Leech Lake Dam
businesses including his father’s boat livery.
There used to be 6 or 7 of them down there. My dad owned one way
down at the end. They all had business. It wasn’t like it is now.
There was people on them boats. The railroad
went through we’d ship all the fish out. Back in them
days you could send a limit home and then you could
take a limit with you. If you
were like Chicago somewhere.
We shipped out a lot of fish. So when you dad had one of
those concession what would
you do? Cleaning fish. I cleaned lots of fish. We got paid for it.
Sorel Spruce another kid and I we did all
the fish cleaning and packaging of them. We had a little box factory
here in town that used to make fish boxes for the liveries
and other people to. but mostly for the
liveries here. We caught lots of fish. Business was there was probably 65-70 cabins
in town at that time. Opening of fish season
she was all full. There was no vacancies or anything.
Same way with hunting deer hunting, duck hunting. Gradually it disappeared. There ain’t
a cabin in town now is there? Maybe Marty’s up there. Tonga’s rent out.
Oh Yeah Tonga’s rent out. Why do you think
there are less people coming now? In the first place
you go fishing for I got 75 cents a head for
guiding. $2.25 you could go fishing on a
launch. Now what is $50 – $60 That’s the difference. Everybody startedPPgetting their own boats andppmotors. Fishing never deteriorated around here it was always pretty good
back in them days. August was a tough month.
The water level management
obviously a year round job.
The one thing people should really grasp
onto, water connects us to everything.
If you are talking fisheries you know people love to fish.
Hunting, waterfowl wild rice management.
It’s all linked to the water I know native americans
knew that centuries ago and
it really is true today. So I really enjoy the
water level management part of my job. water flowing We have these desirable
summer ranges that each one of the 6 dams
tries to achieve every summer and at Leech Lake
it’s about a half a foot. You have this
huge body of water with a huge water shed
and we’re trying to keep it within this micro 6 inch band
during the summer. Which people have developed the area around PPthe lake have become accustomppto We do our best but
mother nature is still very much in charge
of how successful we are operating during the summer
with that desirable range. Make no mistake about
mother nature is still charge. Show me some of the rice that
you’re responsible for
managing the levels to help this rice grow.
Okay there is some right up
here on the pool side of the dam. What are the challenges for you of
managing the levels so that the
rice can prosper if you like?
First of all this was a natural lake before
the Corps built the
empoundment. Because of that the
downstream river capacity of our outflow is kind of not
enough during the wet periods to be able
pass enough water to keep this
lake in it’s desirable range. The flood damage
reduction responsibilities like say you have a wet fall, lot of snow during the winter.
We do our best to do a draw down and then
it the snow melts in spring.
You get a lot of rain and it starts reaching flood stage
down in the Aitkin area. So then Leech and Winnie
actually become flood storage
reservoirs to help minimize the flood damage
down stream. Okay. So when that happens,
Leech Lake rises and rises. So it can happen so the
water levels are so high you don’t get good germination
of aquatic vegetation in
spring. If that happens you wouldn’t see a nice lush wild rice bed like what
you see out there right now. As it germinates it grows
to the surface and then it reaches a floating
leaf stage. Now at this point if you
get a lot of rain or you raise the water level
for whatever reason. It’s possible to pull it out by the roots. ppBecause the floating leaves will lift it up and it will pull out. ppThen you lose your rice. Then eventually the
floating leaf stands up like a grain and at that point it’s pretty stable.
It’s pretty secure. And then eventually it
starts growing heads of grain and at that point it starts
getting top heavy. If that
happens and you drop the water levels
or you get a big wind or heavy rain it will tip over. At that point if the grain
is ripe enough you have duck rice but it’s
not harvestable rice for people. So there
is a lot of issues both mother nature and harm that humans
can cause through trying to manage water levels.
What’s really really difficult that most people wouldn’t understand
unless they live below a dam. Most dams were put
in to control a pool of water above the dam.
So you have an operating plan for that pool of water.
So then below the dam you have your river. Let’s say youppare trying to raise that water level on your lake.
So you use your control structure to reduce
the amount of outflow, so your
river drops way down.
So now let’s just reverse that and say you have water
on your lake and you open your control structure and
you increase the outflow. Then the water comes up in
the river dramatically faster and it fluctuates above the dam.
So in this case of Leech Lake
Dam there is rice beds on Leech Lake
and there is rice beds down stream of Leech Lake,
particularly at the Mud Goose Wildlife Management Area.
That’s owned and managed by the Minnesota DNR.
But it is so close it’s only
about 30 miles downstream.
So the operation of this dam vastly affects the water
levels down there. So we’re trying
to grow rice in both areas which is a real challenge.
Sometimes the man made control structures help and sometime
they hurt. Just depending on the conditions and the variations with whatever
mother nature has to deal out. So you’ve got a lot on your hands then
in dealing with the water
levels here not something you can
let slide too much. I haven’t mentioned
environmental stewardship that is one of our main
business functions. When it comes to wild rice, that falls under tribal
trust but it would also fall
under environmental stewardship. Along with that would
come water levels for wildlife management, fish and
wildlife, erosion control wild rice and any other
kind of environmental issue or management
that needs to be considered. There is an ariel photo
that we have inside on the
wall that we should go in and take a look at.PPIt focuses on the Leech LakeppRiver from the dam down to Mud Goose
Wildlife Management Area. Okay I’d like to see that. It’s actually a makeup
of a whole bunch of little
ariel photos that we put together focusing
on the Leech River. So currently we are right up
here at Leech Lake Dam by the town of Federal Dam.
This is Portage Bay on Leech Lake so you are seeing just a
little bit of the northeast
tip of Leech Lake. Then the wild rice
we were looking at is all right up here above the dam.
The concessionaire we were
talking about is right in this area the boat ramp.ppOf course that’s the beginning of the Leech River.
This gives you a really good concept of this is just a tiny
little portion of Leech Lake but the mass of water
out there and then this little tiny river. So that’s
when you start talking about river capacity,
channel capacity. Say we get into a wet period
or Leech Lake Dam starts to perform as a flood storage
for downstream flood damage reduction
so the lake ends up a foot
high. Then you start trying to draw
down this lake with that small channel. The capacity
just isn’t there. So that’s why I was saying on
a lake you are maybe only
fluctuating a couple feet or a foot.
But then you start opening and closing the
control structures on the dam and your river fluctuates
threes times that amount. So it becomes quite a
challenge to the down stream resources. What is really neat
you see how some of the oxbows that exist and
then how some places it is so straight. Now look at
the remnants of these oxbows This river back decades ago was actually
dredged and straightened. to try to increase the flow,
increase the channel capacity to be able to get water down
stream faster. to help in the management
of Leech Lake. From an environmental stand point,
straighting the rivers that is
very unnatural and it’s
not good for wildlife and water quality
and things like that. That’s something that
has changed from when they original built the dam. So it was doneppin a different age when perhaps we didn’t have as much understanding
of those things as we do now. Right I think now
there is actually interest to try to restore some of those
oxbows and the natural function of the river. Further down the flow of the Mississippi
Headwaters we reunite with
Jeffrey Kleinert dam tender at Lake Winnie and also tender ofPPLake Pokegama Dam near GrandppRapids, MN. I’ve been operating
since 1988 so roughly 25 years. The dam
originally was built in 1884. It was made of wood back then.
It was changed into concrete in
1904 and even today in 2013
most of the concrete in the dam is still the concrete
from 1904, so it’s over 100
years old. But of course we do improvements
from time to time and change
things. Just a couple of years ago, we improved it
by adding more steel gates
where we used to have wooden logs stacked up
that we had to remove one at a
time. Now we don’t have to do that operation.
We can use electricity and move those gates up and down as we need to. PPThey are individuallyppcontrolled. I can operate one or more than one
at a time if I need to. There’s
14 one of them is larger than the others.PPIt actually has two stemsppbecause it’s on what used to be the log sluice. ppBack in 1900 they actually moved some timber through the dam.
That particular bay has steal
plates on the side down stream so that
when logs went through they would bash into the walls of the opening
it wouldn’t damage the
concrete. So that particular bay has
a large gate than the others. April, May is pretty busy so we
do a lot of gate changes then. We look at the storage capacity of the reservoir
obviously we don’t want to
operate it at the full height so then you have no room
to store. So you take into
account what normal level is and how long you PPshould be at that level andppthen of course you have to make room for the
spring runoff. So in the fall
you are drawing down. Different lakes
have different draw down
schedules and different amounts. Pokegama
we draw down 3 feet. over the course of the winter.
Winnie we only draw down one
foot. Winnie is a lot larger lake so you
have a lot more volume in that
one foot. Winnie is about 70,000 acres. Pokegama is
roughly 12,000 – 14,000 right
in there But again it just
depends on amount of precipitation you have and how
much adjusting you have to do. One of the dam tenders, the early dam tenders
said he knew he had the
settings right when the number of complaints upstreamPPequaled the number ofppcomplaints downstream. Pokegama has pretty much the
same operation schedule since it started.
Winnie actually was dropped a foot back in …. I don’t have
the exact date in my head here. I want to say late 60’s early 70’s.
When that lake gets high we get some erosion issues all around PPthe Winnie shoreline. So it wasppdecided to lower that permanently a foot. Pokegama
has stayed pretty much the
same. Well I would say the biggest difference with Pokegama versus
the other dams is the capacity of water that it can pass and the fact that
it is on the main stem of the
Mississippi. Most of our other dams are
on smaller rivers that flow into the Mississippi. Winnie is on
the Mississippi but it is a small control structure. It only has five PPregular gates and one logppsluice gate. For a dam on a lake that size
that’s a fairly small
structure. This dam I have 14 gates
and with normal operation this year in particular in 2013.
There was an occasion where we did pass
approximately 3,000 cubic feet
a second, which is quite a bit of water. But we
do have the capacity to push
more if need be. We have what
we call PMFs, Probable Maximum Floods, and when those things PPdo occur it’s an awful lot ofppwater and the dams are designed to save
themselves by allowing the
opening of all of the gates to push that water through.
And in some cases even over the top to save the structure
and get the water out of here. But let’s hope we don’t see
a PMF that’s a lot of water. The major importance right
now in this century is the flood control issues that
they have near the city of
Aitkin. It’s a town that is built in
very low topography area of a very
swampy county in Aitkin county. Unfortunately when
they get a lot of rain. It can get to a flood stage of
twelve pretty quickly. Then we are
required on a guide curve we have to follow that puts extra water
into Pokegama. We store water
on purpose. here. So with out having the reservoir
we wouldn’t be able to assist Aitkin and help them by holding
back some of the water that
would add to their problems. So it serves
that purpose fairly well. Of course we can also hold water
in other reservoirs further
upstream in Winnie and Leech. They’re bigger
but again it’s all about
location You know you can’t make water
flow up hill. If it’s not
controlling run off. in that immediate area. It’s not
doing you a whole lot of good
other than not putting more fuel to the fire
so to speak or adding more
water into the system. It’s a pretty importantpprole for flood control. Then of course we have
natural resource issues and recreation. Pokegama Lake has
about 800 homes on it. I would say almost everyone on the lake
has docks and boats and other
recreational equipment. They really enjoy
the use of that lake. They monitor it very closely as well. They will
let me know if they are not
happy with the elevation being
high or low. Pokegama campground here at Pokegama Dam.
I have 19 electric camp sites and 2 that are tent only.
I get a lot of day use
visitation People come in just to fish here.
I get approximately about 50,000 a year at Pokegama
Dam. About 90% of those visitors are day users.ppThey picnic they fish They use the playgrounds and so on.
The other 10% are campers. But
our campground stays pretty full from mid-May right
up through Labor Day. So it’s
a very busy campground. Reservations
keep fairly full. I do take in some folks of the highway with first
come first serve sites. But
it’s not unusual to be full. A couple years ago
we added a pedestrian bridge that allows people to walk across
or even ski across in the
winter. They gain access to the Bass Brook Wildlife PPManagement area which isppapproximately 400 acres on the south side of the river here.
There is quite a few hiking trails and cross country ski trails.
So a lot of people come over
here and they walk also along the edge of the
river and fish. They have to
fish 300 feet downstream as a minimum distance.
It’s a commissioners order from
the DNR It’s actually to protect the fish.
This oxygenated water really attracts fish. So the fish
come up really close to the
dam. So if you didn’t have that people would be fishingPPright here all the timeppcatching all the fish. And that would be good for the resource PPif all the fish were taken allppat once. But there are some good spots to fish.
We get a lot of people who come
across the dam to utilize these areas.
Most people are fishing for
walleye. Sunfish, there’s a lot of Bass in here. ppLarge mouth and small mouth. There’s Muskie, Northerns, a
lot of rough fish Suckers, Redhorse. Pretty much anything
that swims in Minnesota we don’t have catfish yet. Although
my boss has been fishing
catfish down stream near McGregor.
The channels are moving up the
river. So we never had Channel Cat
that far north before. You’d
catch a Bullhead or two but never channels. The onlyPPthing that is stopping themppfrom coming all the way here is Blandin Dam.
You’re going to be able to catch Channel Cats right below Blandin
which you never could do 10
years ago. That wasn’t possible. You never know
what you’re going to get. Everyone uses live bait so they don’t really know
what they got until they pull
it up. Back when the dam was
built originally in 1884. It is was also a home to the caretaker,
dam tender. He also had a
family and more a less a farm, a ranch.
He raised livestock and the kids and everyone lived here. So it wasn’tPPjust a job with an office likeppit is now. It was literally their home.
They maintained their lively hood by raising produce
to eat and livestock to eat. and so forth. So it was more
or less a farming situation. Up until about the late 1930s, 1940s
it was more or less a farm. But then up into the 50’s 60’s
the dam tender had a house but and that was pretty much just where
he lived and worked from but it
wasn’t really a farm anymore.
The natural flora and fauna of our area have adapted well to thesePPdams of the MississippippHeadwaters. And continue to thrive as a resource
not only for hungry humans Renee Hanson and Deb Griffith
of the Army Corps of Engineers introduce us to some feathery inhabitants ppof the Pine River Dam on Cross Lake.
This is the Cross Lake Dam. On this side is where the Cross Lake
actually is. We have 13 gates along the
side. Over here on the left hand side this
is the tail waters of the dam. So what we are looking when we look
over the railing here is our
concrete apron. This is basically the area where
the water flows from the upper part of the dam down to the tail end. ppRight now we have a flow of 198 cubic feet per second coming
out here. If you look over here on the left hand side there
is also a green heron over
here as well. Lots of sea gulls are around here.
The first gate was a fish ladder and the second gate was a log sluice
that are no longer working
right now. But we wanted to make sure the dam
looked like how it was
originally built. Right now we are down on the
fishing pier on the river side
of Pine River Dam or Cross Lake Dam.
Right now we have 6 gates open about 3 inches
each. Each gate is releasing about 33
CFS. A total of 189 CFS being
released right now. CFS stands for cubic feet per second. ppIf you could imagine a basketball that’s what a cubic foot
looks like. How much that would be. So right now from
the dam there is being a 198 basketballs being released
at each second. So it’s quite incredible. When you can put it into
a manner that you can
understand. Our maximum that I believe we
have ever released from this
dam was 2600 CFS. That was
a lot of basketballs at point. But minimally we
always had to have 33 cubic feet per second coming
through the dam to feed the
Pine River to feed the Mississippi.
So it’s always at a 33 CFS being released minimally.
As you can see we’ve got the
Great Blue Heron down here. He just kind
of wades he is more like a
water fowl that just kind of wades. He doesn’t really dive likePPan eagle or anything likeppthat. He likes to have breakfast lunch and dinner there.
The Green Heron I think just left us but there is a bunch of sea gulls and aPPlot of people like to comeppdown here and fish. Pretty popular for the fishing
opener. The dam utility building is where we can turn
on the power. But we have to
go to each gate manual to press the buttons
to open and close it. If there
is an emergency situation we can
definitely turn off right here stop it all right now. So here we
have the stone which is the main embankment through the
campground. This is about a 3
foot wall but then it also goes down
an additional 16 to 20 feet. Those aren’t individual rocks
there was a cast and they individually painted
each rock to make it look a stone wall. The history of these
reservoir control structures is just as diverse and deep
as the waters they harness. Ray Nelson relates a small splash
of history at the Sandy Lake
Dam on Big Sandy Lake. Sandy Lake
is one of the unique dams and sites that the Corps
of Engineers manages. Sandy
River Sandy Lake and the Mississippi River. ppIt has a lock. They built a lock here. One of the initialPPpurposes for having a lock wasppthey wanted to have river boats or basically
paddlewheels going from Aitkin all the way to Grand Rapids.
In the early days in the late 1800’s if you were
going to travel up here going by a river boat was
one of your best options. You would leave Minneapolis/St Paul
and get to maybe Elk River/
Little Falls portage around get on another river boatPPand take you to anotherpplocation. Again stop and portage around into another one and PPeventually you get all the wayppto Aitkin where Aitkin can take you through
all the way to Grand Rapids. Steam whistle There was always these
obstructions like at Little
Falls an area there that would basically have toPPbe portaged around. So theypphad limitations. But they did have boats that would go so farppand then on the other side have another boat and that would take themPPas far as Crow Wing orppBrainerd. or so forth or Aitkin
and that sort of thing. If you got to go through rapids
area or rocky areas and so forth that was kind of a
limitation. The best route that was available
at the time was basically from
Aitkin to Grand Rapids.
Steam whistle The Mississippi River in this whole process ppyou know you have to realize depth again change. You have to
manage it in order for these
boats to go through. You have to take snags,
you know like trees that fall
in and different obstacles like that. So the ideappwas to have a lock here where the paddleboats could come
up to and be able to go
through. And get into the Mississippi
River basically. So that was one of the primary purposes PPwhen they built this dam in thepplate 1800’s. Because transportation was again
was a lot by river and not by
horses. and trails and roads that
weren’t built yet. I think it was last used in about early
1900’s The Oriole which was the boat that
traveled primarily between
Aitkin and Grand Rapids, the paddlewheeler
is in the Corps little museum across the river from us today and can be
seen by the public if they are
interested. By the way you talking about
museums historic sites and so
forth most dams were built where
the lakes outletted into the rivers and so forth. They made
out like the Mississippi River. If you go back in Indian times there great places to have campsites
for resources from fishing to hunting to wild rice
to berries and so forth. But where quarter dams are built is usually PPis a historic site of some sortppas well. Corps, archaeologist and cultural people
work hand in hand as well. to make sure these are protected as well.
In this part of Minnesota people have been up here since
the last glaciation has
retreated. So it’s about 12,000 years
of human occupation. From the areas that we have
explored in the headwaters
sites like at Big Sand Lake for example. The
archaeological record here goes
back at least 6,000 years
and probably earlier. What that tells you is that
people have been living here for quite a long time,
continuously. We have people camping here now
because it’s a nice place to
be. Lot of resources in the area
and it’s a good living. So that means we are going to back
into what they call the
Woodland Era? Oh before that this would
be Archaic for sure. Don’t know if we have any sites
that we can definitely say date to the Paleo period.
Archaic for sure and definitely into the Woodland
and into the historic period
too. That’s when the first French and British
traders came up here and established their posts.
Then the American occupation as well.
Lot of history. Concrete structures by the way: this is a climate in Minnesota
where you have extreme difference of temperatures
from 50 some below zero to 100 degrees in the summertime.
Concrete has got to weather all of these extreme
temperatures as well. People that built them
in the early 1900’s whatever formula they
were using. They used a tremendously good formula cause the
lifetime of the dam has been
around 49 years and most of these
concrete structures obtained a 100 year lifetime before having
any major concrete work done. to them. Some of the concrete experts
of today when they were doing I can think of Cross Lake in particular PPright now where just totallyppamazed at the strength of the concrete
that lasted a 100 years through these extreme
temperatures. The Corps does not want any tragedies toPPhappen at these dams and allppdams are not built alike. They are all a little bit different. ppBelow the dams there is a lot of rock typically. There is some
different toes we call them
toes. There is an apron usually involved with
the water coming out of the
dam. Some of the water comes underneath
and some of it comes over These toe areas are very dangerous
areas for people to walk into or boat into, because they have littlePPcircular like conditions goingppon. If you take a boat into some of
these you get caught in it and it is almost impossible to get out. PPSome of these are what youppwould call very high head dams with a lot of
water a lot of cubic feet per
second coming out. Which a typical
human being has no physical abilities to survive that.
So many feet has been
prescribed down from every dam for people to stay
out of for their own safety
purposes, to try to protect them from that.
The Corps of Engineers staff rangers in particular
will try to abide by that. Lot of it is signage. Some of it
has actually barriers across be it buoys or
whatever. All dams are little bit different. You get down by PPMinneapolis/St Paul you findpplocks and dam. Use buoys where people
are to st stay out of with an area on the side by these locks andPPdams for recreational boatsppand barges to go through. To get locked through safely.ppThere is a process people who are traveling or boating on thesePPareas should know the rulesppfor sure. If they are on a reservoir they
should see that large sign
saying stay out for your safety purposes.
Safety concerns for those who find rest, relaxation and
recreation at these areas remain foremost in the duties of
those who tend the dams. Mary Kay Larson remains vigilant
at Gull Lake Dam. Not only for
visitors safety but also for the
varying levels of the
reservoir. Well I’ve been here for 25 years
and so a lot of times we go by history, because there
is just many different
variables. There is just no set pattern or
set elevation. Well we coordinate
with our district office which is St. Paul.
There is a lot of variables in regulation. During the normal
day of operation we take water level readings and
we keep track of what those are and also depending
on what kind of rain we get We take readings
on lake ages Between our hydrologists and I
we take readings and send those
in to the hydrologists in the mornings. We take
a tail water and a pool water reading and also
our lake level readings. Depending upon what kind
of precip we get, what can of heat there
is outside and evaporation, it all goes into coordinating
what our gates are set at. What kind of discharge
we are discharging at. Also during the water time we
take snow readings, snow
surveys. That gives us water content. We draw down during the winter time
accordingly. Both winter and
summer recreation are of paramount importance
to the people who call these
waterways home. The dams current purpose
is regulating and maintenance
of water Though the exact workings of this process PPremaining a mystery to visitorsppand residents alike. A lot of times
the area residents don’t understand what really does go
it that. Many of them believe that it is dropping five feet or that sort
of thing and that it just
depends on their shore line, the elevation
of their shore line. We
regulate the Gull Lake chain of lakes within
a 3 inch band in the summer. So sometimes that constitutes coming
out in the middle of the night and making gate changes
coordinating with our on call crane that comes out and
helps us pull stop logs. There is quite a bit that goes
into it. Where is the lake from where we are standingPPright now? Actually it isppright here behind us This is the channel that goes out to the lake.
When we did build the dam in 1911, well it was
put into service in 1912. It raised the lake level 5 feet
and it became a chain of lakes. So it went from the main Gull
Lake to a chain of lakes of ten lakes.
There is a alot of resorts
located on the lakes and so the lake
level variations makes a big difference to our residents and
also to the resort owners. So on our journey from the
Power Dam near Bemidji, MN to Gull Lake Dam northwest of Brainerd, MN, ppwe’ve encountered stories of how these water
control structures affect the
people wildlife, culture and our history.
From their original design controlling navigable water levels
in the Twin Cities for industry to their current task of maintaining
shoreline for property owners their mission remains important
and constant. What does the future hold for these dams of the
Mississippi Headwaters. This
section of the Mississippi it’s important to maintain
the levels but it is also
important to maintain it because it does bring
a lot of wildlife into the
area. Cause like I said before the
water connects everything. The Corps as water control
managers have to work with Minnesota DNR on
fisheries, wildlife, wild rice. The Leech Lake Band
on those same issues. they have natural resource
managers within their band that manage things also.
I think when you talk about the Mississippi River
Headwaters reservoirs, we as a organization realize the
deep significance and history of these waters. While they may have been
original been built for water
supply for navigation in the late 1800’s.
The mission has changed and evolved into a greater one.
A much more complex mission The future of these dams I think
is going to be here forever. The reason being we have
valuable real estate that is surrounding all these
reservoirs. These natural lakes that now have what we call
an agreed managing plan All these lake levels that we
want to maintain every year. To take a dam out totally would
lower lake levels the highest
one 13 feet, the rest of them are going
to be in a category from 8
foot – 13 feet. If you are a lake owner out there
and all of a sudden you have
shore line that is 6 feet out and all of a
sudden you have to walk 60
feet out. to put your dock in. You probably
aren’t going to be the
happiest land owner. around. So right now if you because these are natural lakes with privatePPinterest all around, I see theppfuture of the dams as being here
forever. The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund byPPthe vote of the people makesppHarnessing the Headwaters: First Dams
on the Mississippi possible.

2 thoughts on “Harnessing The Headwaters — First Dams on the Mississippi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *