One down, two to go

in historic dam removal project

The first of three dams has been removed as part of the largest dam removal in Michigan history.


The Boardman River is one of Michigan’s ten best trout streams and one of the most ecologically significant and popular rivers in northern Michigan. The river’s watershed encompasses 291 square miles and produces one-third of the water volume of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, in Traverse City. Four dams were built in the river in the late 1800s and early 1900s to power a flourmill and, later, generate electricity. The dams created obstructions in the river, which created artificial ponds, blocked fish passage, altered natural stream flows and increased water temperatures in parts of the blue-ribbon trout stream. In 2005, Traverse City Light and Power determined it was no longer cost effective to generate electricity at the dams.  That decision prompted a coalition of community groups to develop a plan to remove three of the dams and modify the Union Street Dam in downtown Traverse City. The project is the largest dam removal project in Michigan’s history. Removal of the first dam, Brown Bridge Dam, was marred by the failure of a temporary dam in October 2012 that caused flooding downstream. The project was completed in early 2013 and that stretch of river was re-opened to anglers and paddlers in April 2013. The project also gave fish access to 145 miles of stream above the dam for the first time in nearly 100 years. Removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams is expected to begin in 2014.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Obstructions to fish passage
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Loss of wetlands and upstream habitat
  • Unnatural warming of water temperatures


Boardman River Dam Removal from above.

The Boardman River needed a series of dam removals to restore river flow and habitat. Credit: Conservation Resource Alliance.

Results and Accomplishments

Re-established 2.5 miles of river channel, 12.2 acres of floodplain, moved 260,000 cubic yards of sediment and restored more than one mile of in-stream habitat.