Blog: Laura Rubin

Laura Rubin is the Huron River Watershed Council’s Executive Director. Under Laura’s leadership the HRWC has tripled it’s operating budget in five years; increased staff size, and expanded its programs. Laura will be writing about how the Huron is the lifeblood of our community and how we can keep it healthy.

Post 4: Bringing it home

In the Huron River Watershed we have a 1995 DNR Fisheries study that guides prioritization of dam removal. The top three priorities for removal are:

  • Dexter Dam at the Mill Pond
  • Argo Dam in Ann Arbor
  • Peninsular Dam in Ypsilanti

None of these dams provide hydropower. There are only a few dams on the river that provide hydropower. Low-head hydropower does not pay to produce it in Michigan (presently) as you can see that the majority of the dams are held by municipalities or non-profits. Private industry, mainly utility companies, sold the dams off to the local municipalities or parks agencies for sometimes as little as a dollar decades ago. 

None of these dams serve as flood control dams. These dams are operated as run of the river, which means that what comes in goes out. Kind of like a big bathtub. Rather than help control or minimize flooding, these dams are greater safety hazards as they age. If they fail, they could potentially flood residents and businesses downstream. 

The Dexter Dam at Mill Pond is being removed this summer. You should visit it.  The dam sits below the bridge leading out of Dexter on the West side of the Village. It looks muddy and messy, but that’s dam removal.The contractors have struggled with the large amounts of sediment and some unexpected
"disappearance of the stream and downstream bubbling up" but all in all, the stream is cutting a new channel and the upstream area is filling in as a beautiful floodplain and future park. 

The next dam downstream is Argo. The City of Ann Arbor is heading a public process to get input on the management of the river, mainly Barton, Argo, Geddes, and Superior ponds. With Argo Dam we need to balance the needs of the rowing community with the ecological and economic benefits of removal. 

Peninsular Dam lies further downstream in Ypsilanti. The Huron River Watershed Council is just starting discussions with the City of Ypsilanti about removal options and teaming up with the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and other partners to talk about conducting some feasibility studies on Argo and Peninsular Dams. 

I realize when I talk about dam removal many people envision a stinky, muddy flat where the pond used to be. I picture beautiful wetlands and floodplains mixed with parks, paths, and benches along a free-flowing, fast, and cool river.  In a preliminary study of Argo Dam removal, an estimated 50 acres will be reclaimed by the City as parkland with dam removal. Whether it’s a whitewater park, a great canoeing or kayaking stretch, a nice place to walk, or active recreation, dam removal will change the view of the river for us all, but in the process, add attractive amenities to our communities, improving the quality of the life in the area and the quality of the Huron River.