RIVER FALLS — A drawdown of Lake Louise in October 2020 to inspect the Powell Falls Dam will remain permanent after it was determined repairs to the soon-to-be-decommissioned dam and hydroelectric facility would cost upwards of $100,000.

That repair estimate comes in around $30,000 more than the anticipated revenue from the hydroelectric facility between now and when the facility will be shut down in 2023, according to a city of River Falls news release.

City Council and the Utility Advisory Board met in a joint workshop on Jan. 19 to discuss hydroelectric relicensing and dam options. Members agreed to pass on conducting major repairs on the Powell Falls Dam, with only some minor work expected this year to deal with water level changes from rain events.

“The decision not to make major repairs was not made lightly, as City Council and UAB members have long been ardent supporters of green energy production,” Mayor Dan Toland said.

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Is the dam at risk of failing?

No, according to the city’s utility director.

“The inspection revealed that the dam is not in imminent danger of failing, though the cost of repairing it is high,” City Utility Director Kevin Westhuis said in the news release.

The dam sustained damage during flooding in June 2020.

What’s being done in 2021?

Repairs to the Powell Falls Dam, located on the west side of town near the city’s wastewater treatment plant, will include:

  • Fixing the dam’s gate,
  • removing the turbine, and
  • getting rid of some sediment downstream.

The dam is slated for removal by 2026.

What’s happening with Junction Falls?

The city’s other dam and hydroelectric facility, just upstream at Lake George, will stick around for at least another decade, though the city says it is planning to remove it by 2040.

Why remove the dams?

What to do with dams along the prized Kinnickinnic River has been a topic of debate — sometimes heated — for years.

Conservation groups rallying behind calls to “Free the Kinni” say removing the dams would restore the water temperature downstream and boost river recreation activities, among other benefits.

Doing so would mean an end to lakes George and Louise, both impoundments created by their associated dams.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, issued the city a 30-year license to operate the hydroelectric facilities in 1988. A relicensing process was started ahead of the 2018 expiration date, though City Council ultimately endorsed a long-term vision of a free-flowing Kinnickinnic River and the eventual removal of the two dams.

PREVIOUSLY: The Kinni will be free, eventually; City Council votes to remove dams

What happens next?

Multiple water quality and decommissioning studies were conducted in 2020, and the Utility Advisory Board is scheduled to discuss them in-depth at a meeting in February.

In the meantime, the city has study documents and a relicensing timeline at https://www.rfcity.org/582/Hydroelectric-Relicensing.