The effort to remove dams on the Kinnickinnic River and restore the famous trout stream is moving ahead. The city of River Falls, which owns the lower of the two dams, recently announced it has completed significant steps toward removal. The dam has been removed from federal jurisdiction and approved for decommissioning, and the city applied for a Wisconsin grant program to assist with demolishing the dam.
Officials say the moves will make the dam’s removal less costly and easier. Last spring, the city halted power generation at the hydroelectric dam earlier than originally planned because of damage caused by flooding the year before.
By releasing the dam from regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it is now eligible for the state funding. Local Assembly member Rep. Shannon Zimmerman assisted the city with applying to the DNR for a $1 million grant to assist with removal.
“This is a major milestone towards dam removal and river restoration and lets us move forward on a little more aggressive schedule. Removing Powell Falls dam from the FERC and having an accepted decommissioning plan are the result of a lot of work by City staff and was ultimately a team effort among many stakeholders involved in this project,” said Kevin Westhuis, manager of the City’s Municipal Utilities.
The two dams in River Falls have been the focus of conversations about removal for more than five years. Since 1992, volunteers with Trout Unlimited have monitored water temperatures above and below the dams, finding that they raise temperatures by up to five degrees — often above the range suitable for the river’s beloved trout.
The River Falls city council voted in 2018 to remove the Powell Dam by 2026. The recent developments put them on track to accomplish that goal.
“I’m thrilled to see the process of removing the Powell Falls dam continuing to move forward. Removal of the dam is a priority in the long-term restoration of the Kinnickinnic. It is exciting to envision what the future of the Kinni corridor holds and I’ve been fortunate to be able to play a small role in this transformation,” said Rep. Zimmerman.
Removing Powell Dam is one step of several planned by the city as part of an initiative called the Kinni Corridor Collaborative (KCC). Additional projects over the next one to two decades are intended to restore the free-flowing river as a means to protect water and improve community connections to the river.
The city owns not only the Powell Dam but the adjoining land and river corridor. The city says it will support “both public and privately financed development of public use facilities and parkland.”
“The Kinnickinnic River is a rare and beautiful, spring fed cold-water stream. This lower Kinni restoration project will reconnect and enhance over one mile of stream,” said Judie Foster Babcock, President of Kinni Corridor Collaborative and a fifth-generation descendant of the founder of River Falls. “As the City’s philanthropic partner, KinniCC is coordinating the community involvement and engagement of supporting stakeholders locally, and regionally across Wisconsin and Minnesota. We are actively raising funds to enhance the fishery and recreation area along with supporting a systematic monitoring of river conditions pre- and post-dam removal.”
The Master Plan adopted by the city in 2019 calls for a nature center in the former dam impoundment, interpretive trails, and more. It also calls for a “RiverWalk” along the river, hoped to attract new visitors to the town. Businesses will be encouraged to face the new walkway, and otherwise enhance the town’s Main Street to the river.
Goals of the removal and restoration are also to increase access to the river for fishing, paddling, and more.
The Powell Dam is one of two in the city. The other, the Junction Falls dam a mile upstream, is targeted for removal and stream restoration completed between 2035 and 2040.