Mississippi River Gorge and Kinnickinnic Among Nation’s Top Ten Rivers Facing Threats
Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers, 217-390-3658
Jill Crafton, Izaak Walton League of America, 952-944-5583
Michael Page, Friends of the Kinni, 612-810-3949
Chris Bye, Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, 612-940-1607
Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named two rivers in the Twin Cities region among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018, citing outdated dams that are harming fish and wildlife habitat and limiting recreation and economic revitalization opportunities. American Rivers and its partners called for removal of two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers locks and dams in the Mississippi River Gorge in Minneapolis, and two aging dams on the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wisconsin.
“This is a critical year for the people of this region to decide what kind of future we want for our rivers and clean water,” said Olivia Dorothy with American Rivers. “These dams have served their purpose, and now it’s time for them to go. We must seize this moment to restore the rivers to health and create positive change that will last for generations to come.”
The Mississippi River Gorge runs roughly eight miles from Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis to the Minnesota River confluence in Mendota, Minnesota. Commercial barge traffic ended in the Gorge in 2015, and two locks and dams owned by the Army Corps have eliminated the natural flow regime and, consequently, the river’s health and wildlife have suffered. The dams are also preventing the metro area from seizing the opportunity to restore the natural flow through this reach and potentially explore new recreational and economic opportunities. American Rivers and its partners are calling on the Army Corps to recommend to Congress that the locks and dams be removed.
“Continued maintenance and operation of these locks and dams would be costly and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” said Jill Crafton with the Izaak Walton League of America. “The locks and dams in the Gorge represent an outdated industrial vision of the river. It’s time to start a new chapter, where a healthy, restored river supports native fish and wildlife.”
“The historic rapids ecosystem in the Gorge offered important habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Dorothy. “This is an opportunity we shouldn’t miss to restore a lost Mississippi River ecosystem.”
The Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wisconsin, is the last major tributary to the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River and is one of the best trout streams in the Midwest. But two dams have caused the river’s health to decline. American Rivers and its local partners are calling on the City of River Falls to support removal of both dams in a fiscally prudent, environmentally responsible, and timely manner.
“The costs, over time, of keeping these dams are far outweighed by the benefits of removal,” said Duke Welter of Trout Unlimited’s Driftless Area Restoration Effort (TU-DARE). “River Falls residents and visitors alike will appreciate the restored river corridor flowing right behind Main Street, where they can bike, walk, bird-watch or fish amid the natural beauty. It happened in Baraboo, where removal of four useless dams led to development of a beautiful river corridor with numerous recreational opportunities. This can happen in River Falls too.”
“The River Falls City Council passed a resolution on February 27th calling for eventual removal of both dams from the Kinni. This action acknowledges the fact that the complete restoration of the Kinnickinnic River through dam removal is the right thing to do and is in the best interest of the general public,” said Michael Page of Friends of the Kinni. “However, the City’s current timeline, which delays the removal of the Upper Junction Falls Dam another 20 or more years until a target date of 2040, is completely unacceptable for the health of the river and for the economic vitality of our adjacent Main Street Community.”
Dams can have significant negative impacts on river health, including disrupting natural flows, destroying habitat for fish and wildlife, and harming water quality. Dam removal is a scientifically proven and accepted solution for addressing outdated and aging dams. Many dams have successfully been removed across the country and in the Midwest to restore rivers, improve public safety, and eliminate liabilities for dam owners. Home of the Wisconsin inland brook trout state record, four dams have been removed in recent years from the Prairie River near Merrill, Wisconsin. In 1991, the Prairie Dells Dam was removed from the Prairie River resulting in a thirty-fold jump in brook trout reproduction, eliminating the need for hatchery fish stocking. In Baraboo, Wisconsin, four dams have been removed from the Baraboo River. The final removal of the Linen Mill Dam in 2001 resulted, at the time, in the longest restored free-flowing mainstream river in the nation, improving riverine habitat, recreation, and aesthetics in the newly established City of Baraboo Riverwalk.
Dam removal and river restoration can deliver a variety of economic benefits. A 2012 study found that every $1 million spent on Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration projects resulted in 10 to 13 jobs created or maintained. A 2010 study in Oregon found that every $1 million spent on forest and watershed restoration resulted in 15 to 23 new jobs and $2.1 to 2.3 million in economic activity. The economic benefits of dam removal are summarized in a 2016 report by Headwaters Economics.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in past years include the Menominee River (2017), St. Louis River (2015), and Little Plover River (2013).
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018
- Big Sunflower River, MS
- Threat – Army Corps pumping project
- At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat
- Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
- Boundary Waters, MN
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, recreation economy
- Lower Rio Grande, TX
- Threat – Border wall
- At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
- South Fork Salmon River, ID
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat
- Mississippi River Gorge, MN
- Threat – Dams
- At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities
- Smith River, MT
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, recreation
- Colville River, AK
- Threat – Oil and gas development
- At risk – Clean water, wildlife
- Middle Fork Vermilion River, IL
- Threat – Coal ash pollution
- At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
- Kinnickinnic River, WI
- Threat – Dams
- At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream
About American Rivers
American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters and volunteers.