Removing small dam near Detroit

yields big results

Removing a small dam in the Rouge River, near Detroit, has restored fish passage and reconnected the lower river to the larger Great Lakes ecosystem.


The Rouge River, which flows through a heavily industrialized area of metropolitan Detroit, is one of the largest and most damaged rivers in Michigan. Decades of toxic discharges and sewer overflows hurt water quality and fish populations in the river, and dams fractured the sprawling Rouge River ecosystem into a series of smaller, ecologically dysfunctional river segments. One of those dams was located in the city of Wayne, near Detroit. Built in the early 1900s to provide water for firefighting, the 3-foot-high dam blocked fish passage, damaged fish and wildlife habitat and isolated parts of the river and its tributaries from the lower Rouge River, the Detroit River and the rest of the Great Lakes. The dam and subsequent land use activities altered the river’s flow, harmed water quality and aquatic life in that stretch of the Rouge. Removing the dam connected 11 miles of the river and 110 miles of tributaries to the lower Rouge and the rest of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Workers also restored the river’s natural channel, planted vegetation along the restored river banks and created new fish and wildlife habitat.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Blocked fish passage
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Ecosystem fragmentation
  • Low water quality


New grass growing following the removal of the Wayne Road Dam

Removing the Wayne Road Dam reconnected the Rouge River to the Detroit River and will improve the area for fish, wildlife, and people. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Results and Accomplishments

Removing the dam reconnected 11 miles of the main stem of Rouge River and 110 miles of the river’s tributaries to the Great Lakes. Fish in the lower Rouge are now migrating further upstream and a greater diversity of fish has been noted in the river.