The organization American Rivers recently announced that the Kinnickinnic River is number 10 of 10 rivers included on its list "America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2018."
The news release cites "outdated dams that are harming fish and wildlife habitat and limiting recreation and economic revitalization opportunities.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."
The news release states that the 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 release reads.
Michael Page, president of the Friends of the Kinni organization is quoted in the news release saying, "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."
The dam decision
On Feb. 27, the River Falls City Council passed a resolution to approve relicensing of the hydroelectric project (which includes both dams) for the final time. The resolution included plans to remove first the Powell Falls and then Junction Falls dams.
The city will remove the Powell Falls dam and hydroelectric facilities, and complete associated stream restoration by the target date of 2026. The city will also document this process and evaluate it as the Junction Falls removal process is planned.
• The city will remove the Junction Falls dam and hydro facilities, and complete associated stream restoration by the target date of 2035, with removal completed by no later than 2040, according to City Communications Manager Mary Zimmermann. If the need for dam removal becomes more immediate due to ecological reasons, it can be removed sooner.
• The city and stakeholder organizations will form a public-private partnership which will seek funding for these and other river corridor projects. This partnership will also address any projected revenue loss from accelerated dam removal.
Zimmermann said relicensing does not require the city to operate or even keep either of the dams.
Olivia Dorothy of American Rivers said river selection is influenced by three things: first, those chosen have regional or national significance to people and wildlife; second, people and communities depend on chosen rivers; and third, a river needs to be facing a major decision point in a coming year that the public can help influence.
Rivers can be nominated by anyone, by filling out a nomination form.
The Kinnickinnic River was nominated by the Friends of the Kinni organization, along with other local groups including The Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, The River Alliance of Wisconsin, the St. Croix River Association, the Kiap-Tu-Wish chapter of Trout Unlimited, and more.
Dorothy said the top five rivers in this year's list were facing threats from the Trump Administration and congress, and the bottom five were facing more localized threats.
Dorothy said the Kinni was one of two "rays of light in this really dark, depressing list," she said.
She called the Kinni an opportunity to restore lost habitat.
Page said he thinks the Kinnickinnic being listed as one of the "Most Endangered American Rivers" highlights the prominence of the river.
"This is a very important listing," Page said, "a very important occurrence to be listed as prominently along these other rivers that are all endangered and that change needs to happen in order to ensure that this that doesn't continue."
Page said the listing calls for action "more quickly than the year 2040."
He said it could also help generate outside funding sources to help finance dam removal and river restoration.
"The listing should be seen as an opportunity," Page said, "to bring more partners to the table and more funding sources for river restoration and dam removal."
Dan Helsel is the project manager for the River Falls Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Relicensing project.
"From the department's perspective, the entire 25 miles of the Kinni is a Class 1 Trout Stream," Helsel said. "Probably one of the best trout fishing rivers in the Midwest."
Helsel said the Kinni is classified overall as "an outstanding water resource."
That means it meets some of the highest DNR standards in the state for water quality, such as nutrients, chemicals and biological indicators.
He said River Falls dams do have some local effect on the river.
"Over the years there's been documentation of some slight warming on the downstream waters as well as the impoundments themselves change the characteristic of the stream to a slow-moving lake," Helsel said.
However, he said that does not change the overall classification of the river. Helsel said the DNR makes allowances in the cases of properly permitted dams in its stream classification. That means, he said, that the department classifies the river as a whole and does not focus on localized impacts of properly licensed permitted structures.
Helsel said the Wisconsin DNR has been "fully engaged" in the city's stakeholder meetings and discussion with the city. He provided technical assistance to the city as it moved through the decision-making process. He said he will continue to work with the city, stakeholders and sister agencies.
Helsel said the department will continue to look into the impacts that the city's Feb. 27 decision may have on the river, but that the DNR has not reviewed them in relation to the timing of dam removal at this point.
"We love our river," said Zimmermann. "We've just spent over a year talking to the community about how they want to see the future."
She said much information is available online on the Kinni Corridor Project website regarding river ecology, the lifespan of the dams and more.
Zimmermann said the city is proud of the time and effort put into the Kinni Corridor Project so far, and of the resolution reached based on information from public forums, studies and more. She noted there was applause in the room when the decision was reached.
"I would say that it's unfortunate folks feel like it's an endangered river," Zimmermann said, "And we're doing everything we can to keep it viable."
She also pointed out that the resolution passed by the city includes provisions for speeding up dam removal, should the health of the river or of the dams become threatened.
"Throughout all of this we looked very closely at the health of the river and that's the reason why we're not renewing in 40 years," she said.
For more information about the city's hydroelectric dams, visit Kinnicorridor.org
For more information on trout stream classificaitons visit: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/trout/streamclassification.html
For more information on the endangered rivers list, visit americanrivers.org.