Monday, February 23, 2009
My letter to the editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal regarding the removal of the Estabrook Dam on our Milwaukee River
I wrote this letter as a rebuttal to a deceptive and disingenuous letter written on behalf of property owners eager to protect a contaminated impoundment.
The original letter to the editor can be found here.
Read it first, then my rebuttal.
Removal of the Estabrook Dam will benefit us all
By Erik Helm
The removal of the dam on the Milwaukee River at Estabrook Park, and its restoration to a free-flowing state will benefit us all with a natural asset, cleaner water, and increased recreational opportunities, but if one reads the recent letter to the Journal Sentinal by Glen Goebel of the Milwaukee River Preservation Association (MRPA) one might think otherwise.
The MRPA has some legitimate concerns, mainly regarding the river levels adjoining their properties, flood control, and property values, most which have already been addressed, but if the letter represents their opinion, they seem to have to cloak their real concerns with obfuscation. At the end of the letter Mr. Goebel writes “Don’t be fooled by selective science…” which sounds suspiciously like “Don’t let the facts confuse you.”
Uninformed citizens reading this letter would be led to believe that dams and their resulting impoundments lead to cleaner water, that the silt and toxic PCB filled ‘lake’ upstream of the dam constitutes “A beautiful historical and recreational gem”, that the removal of the North Avenue and other dams led to the outbreak of cryptosporidium and algae blooms in Lake Michigan, or that free-flowing water contributes to pollution by moving and scouring sediment.
On the contrary, free-flowing rivers cleanse themselves. The removal of the North Avenue Dam led to the river speeding up, scouring and cleaning the sediment, creating riffles and pools and natural river-flow structures. This led directly to the emergence of aquatic insect life, and a change in fish population from rough species such as carp to an explosion of clean water gamefish. With the fish came fish-eating birds such as herons, osprey, and mergansers, a true indication of cleaner water. The river in this stretch became a recreational and natural asset with the removal of a single dam. Visit the river in the heart of the city at Hubbard Park, where it flows unobstructed and free, and be amazed at the treasure we now enjoy. This is what awaits us upstream of the Estabrook Dam if it is removed.
The impoundment created by the dam, by comparison, creates an artificial pool of stagnant water, degrades fish habitat, warms the water, lowers dissolved oxygen levels, and allows sediment accumulation. Full of highly toxic PCBs, the sediments must be removed, a plan the Wisconsin DNR has in place. This toxic ‘lake’ which dates back to the 1930s was intended for recreation, but the ladies with parasols rowing boats in Lincoln Park disappeared long ago. Where they docked their rowboats sits a smelly mud flat on which nothing will grow. Dam removal and cleanup would lead to increased park area and usability here.
The implication that the removal of dams on the river contributed to or caused cryptosporidium outbreaks and algae blooms in Lake Michigan is a simple scare tactic, and disingenuous. Cryptosporidium outbreaks have been traced to heavy rains, sewer overflows, and agricultural runoff, while the algae bloom is due to changing lake conditions.
Finally there is the Estabrook Dam itself; an aging structure badly in need of repair and constant maintenance, which is a financial drain on the county and the taxpayers. It is estimated that repairs will exceed 1.3 million of our tax dollars. The PCB laden sediment must be removed according to remediation plans already written. Why not restore the river in the process instead of throwing good money after bad trying to repair and maintain a dam that’s purpose has long ago faded away? The financial costs for removal need not be born entirely by taxpayers. Funds are available from federal and state sources. Otherwise, the maintenance costs of the crumbling dam will be born by county taxpayers in perpetuity.
The special interests of the few residents concerned with motor boating and property values, and seemingly deaf to the reassurances of the Wisconsin DNR and other experts, should not outweigh the long-term benefits to the entire community of an unobstructed and free-flowing river. A river, which in places has already returned to its native beauty due to a single dam removal.
Let us all enjoy the benefits of a clean free-flowing river gracing our urban community. Call your County Supervisor and tell them that you support removal of the Estabrook Dam.
Erik Helm is a life-long Milwaukee County resident, writer, and concerned taxpayer. He lives in Shorewood.