Removal of two dams in Michigan

restores river, eliminates safety hazard

Federal Great Lakes restoration funds supported the removal of two obsolete, crumbling dams on the Paw Paw River, in southwest Michigan, removing fish barriers, restoring the river’s natural channel and providing more recreational activities.


Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds, along with state and local funds, were used to remove two dams and a spillway in the Paw Paw River, just east of the city of Watervliet in southwest Michigan. The dams restricted fish passage and prevented migratory fish from Lake Michigan from reaching the upper 100 miles of river. The dams and spillway were built in 1918 to support a paper mill. The paper mill closed in 1968 and the dams fell into disrepair, which presented a safety hazard to boaters and anglers. Removing the dams restored the river’s natural channel, improved water quality and created fish and wildlife habitat by turning a stagnant stretch of the river into a vibrant waterway. The project was significant because the Paw Paw River, which supports 40 species of fish, is a high quality tributary of Lake Michigan.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Impaired water quality
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Ecosystem fragmentation


River in Michigan with snow on the riverbanks

Free-flowing rivers, like the one pictured here, allow fish to swim upstream to spawn. Credit: Courtney Celley U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Results and Accomplishments

Removing the dams liberated and restored a stretch of the Paw Paw River that had been submerged by dam impoundments for five decades. The project reconnected 100 miles of free-flowing stream to Lake Michigan, created new fish and wildlife habitat and increased recreational opportunities for anglers and paddlers. The project eliminated a financial strain on taxpayers by ending the Berrien County’s need to maintain the dams. Restoring the river is also expected to generate economic benefits for communities along the river by reestablishing a fishery for salmon and other migratory species.