River Falls Considers Dam Removal on the Kinnickinnic

Group advocates for restoring natural flow to reveal famous falls and keep the water cold.




2 minute read

Junction Falls of the Kinnickinnic in 1865.  (Photo from University of Wisconsin - River Falls archive, via <a href="http://www.friendsofthekinni.org/">Friends of the Kinni</a>)
Junction Falls of the Kinnickinnic in 1865. (Photo from University of Wisconsin – River Falls archive, via Friends of the Kinni)

“Dams are built structures that get old. Rivers are powerful, constant and patient. ” – Dan Wilcox, River Falls Journal

The most beloved trout stream in the St. Croix Valley could be restored to its natural state if a grassroots effort in River Falls, Wisconsin is successful. 

The city has to re-license the dams every 30 years. With the process beginning again this year, a citizens group called Friends of the Kinni is asking if it makes sense to plan for their removal at this time.

A meeting Monday will be the first significant opportunity to learn about the options and weigh in. The public is invited to tour the River Falls Power Plant and Dam, and then discuss the issue at City Hall.

We believe the hydroelectric facilities have outlived their usefulness, should be retired, and the dams eventually removed so that we can all enjoy the beauty of the natural falls, and our river can run free again,” Friends of the Kinni states on its website.

According to the group, the water warms up by about five degrees as it passes through the lakes behind the dams during summer. That pushes temperatures to the threshold for the river’s famous trout.

The dams also have submerged several of the waterfalls which gave the city its name.

The primary benefit of the dams is the electricity they generate. As humans seek to reduce our use of fossil fuels, using water power can be an attractive option.

In River Falls, though, the power generated is minimal. The city reports that the dams generate about 1.3 percent of its electricity.

At this point, the Friends of the Kinni are primarily asking for dam removal to be considered, with extensive studies needed to see if it’s feasible. If it is, removing the dams would contribute to Wisconsin’s status as leading the nation in dam removal. More than 130 dams have been removed in the past 60 years, more than 50 of them since 1990.

There is also momentum nationally for dam removal. A documentary about the issue just won the audience award at the South by Southwest Film Festival.

Public Meetings – March 24, 2014

  • 3:30 p.m. –  Tour of the power plant and dam, intersection of Winter Street & S. Falls St.  (Map)   
  • 5:30 p.m. – Public Meeting at River Falls City Hall (222 Lewis Street), downstairs “Training Room.”


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River Falls Considers Dam Removal on the Kinnickinnic