Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What am I missing here?

I am confused...

The homeowners along the stretch of river upstream of the dam at Estabrook park on the Milwaukee river have consistently made the argument that the removal of the dam at North Avenue ruined the river, and that the resulting muddy and shallow creek destroyed recreation and ability to paddle.

Here is an excerpt from a letter placed on the Riverotter blog found here. (A good blog with a civil discussion)

From a concerned citizen;

"...Prior to moving here, I lived on/near the Milwaukee River north of the North Avenue Dam.
There, too, as I was working on my property, I would hear the crew boats coming down the river. Shorewood had built a boat house for them and they practiced every Saturday. Then one day the river was gone. The dam had been removed (it seemed overnight and with no notice) and the mighty river and the community it supported became a muddy ugly stream. To this day it is still a diminished river, unapproachable, and abandoned..."

I must be missing something here...

Photos by Erik Helm of the section of river above the North Avenue dam after its removal.

And finally, of a free flowing river in Idaho, fresh from the Rocky Mountains... or is it the Milwaukee?

Notice the similar structures of the water flow and the clarity of the water itself? The fall picture was taken in a low water flow period. Looks like fun boating water to me. Riffles and pools, boulders and spits...all on the Milwaukee River.

I remember the Milwaukee River before the dam removal, and this is a hundred percent improvement. The only activity that is curtailed in this section of the river is the consistent ability to paddle a canoe or a kayak UPSTREAM. Paddling downstream is not a problem as long as flows are above 175 cubic feet per second, which they are in all but low late summer flows. Even then, one can steer their canoe or boat as I do to avoid the shallow riffles, like I would do in any free-flowing river. River level fluctuation is a normal condition. The silty and slow flowing water I remember before the dam was removed is not.
Yes, the river as the citizen remembers it has changed... but for the better.

It is neither "Unapproachable", nor "Abandoned" and in this writers opinion, not a "Muddy ugly stream." I should know, I have fished, hiked, and boated wild rivers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. When I come home from my adventures, the Milwaukee River is awaiting me, and this beautiful stretch beckons with its abundant and restored beauty. You can find me there in summer evenings. Come say "Hi."

And more...

This from a concerned homeowner quoted in the March 10 article by Lee Bergquist in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...

If the dam is torn down, "we won't have a Milwaukee River," said Bob Orvis of Glendale, "we will have a Milwaukee stream."

But, the area in question above the dam is not a river now. Instead, it is an impoundment. Does no one get this? Rivers flow. This is what defines them. Rivers speak. The moving water trickles, murmurs, and roars. Impoundments are silent.

I like a good debate, and respect other opinions. But I sure wish those opinions would occasionally be based on facts, not myopic vision. Go see the whole river. From its headwaters as trout streams, to the estuary.


  1. I read that too, and was confused. The river is night and day different from when the North Ave Dam was up. It is now a RIVER! When I moved back to Milwaukee after living in Western Montana I couldn't believe how much the river had improved. I canoe that section all the time, even in the low summer flows and it's a joy to have this option. There is a network of trails that allow people to enjoy this lovely green corridor right in the middle of the city. The aquatic insect life had come back as well as freshwater clams and other signs of improved water quality(the diversity of fish species drastically improved as well). Change is difficult for everyone but there is no way to look at the river today and say that the health and qualtiy of the river and its' flora and fauna isn't vaslty improved from just a relatively short time ago.

  2. Why am I still up at 1am? Oh, because I am so worked up about this issue. I'm so irritated by ignorant statements such as the ones made by the author of that letter.

    You covered it well, but in the end I believe that as was stated to me personally by an expert in the field, "You fisherman know the river better than anyone".

    Obviously the author of that letter failed to visit the same Milwaukee River that we do so often.

    I guess if you're looking for "lakefront" property in the city, look elsewhere, because ITS CALLED THE MILWAUKEE RIVER not the Lincoln Park Lake.

  3. Lee Berquist is one of the worst reporters at the paper. It is so sad that Milwaukee has such a poor environmental reporter. This guy is a complete hack. Unfortunately, for anyone who reads the paper, this guy is clueless about most environmental issues. He can summarize a DNR or county board meeting, but as is clear from this terrible piece of journalism, you will not get any clarity on the subject at hand, just a bunch of he said/she said quotes.

    Memo to Journal Sentinel Editors: Please remove Lee Berquist from the environmental beat. We deserve better. Lee Berquist is a foolish reporter who A) doesn't understand basic concepts in environmental science B) does a very poor job of reporting on his beat C) follows a model of journalism which is outdated and partially responsible for the reason why so few people turn to the paper anymore for their news.

  4. “Milwaukee Stream?”
    It’s the biggest Lake Michigan tributary between Green Bay and Benton Harbor, MI.

  5. Erik- I am glad that we can agree to disagree and have a civil discussion about this. Thanks for linking! (However, I wonder when you took these North Avenue area photos- in the past week during the early snowmelt and high water? Because, yes, the water is higher there now, but not so much in the summer, which is more what that letter-writer was referring to.)

  6. RiverOtter,

    A couple of the photos were taken in spring when the water was high, but two others were taken when the flow was below 300 cfs. It is only when the river falls to mid summer drought conditions of less than 125 cfs or so that the river can seem a trickle. But, this is normal for our west coast of Lake Michigan rivers. The Milwaukee, Root, Pike, Sheboygan, Oconto, Peshtigo, Twin, and Kewaunee are all spate rivers-ie: dominated by spring flows only at their source, and dependent upon rain and snow melt for higher flows.

    The bigger the drainage area, the bigger the fluctuations. Thus, the Milwaukee with its huge drainage area naturally changes with the seasons.

    I don't like it either at less than 150 cfs, but it still is quite an improvement over the conditions prior to the removal of the North Avenue Dam. The dam did nothing to increase the flow, nor does any dam. Thus, 150 cfs flowing over gravel in riffles vs. 150 cfs slowly moving through an impoundment vary considerably in speed. The slow water caused algae blooms in summer, and the river literally smalled bad. Since the dam removal the only stink is the layer caking scour pools from the sewage outflow pipes which are created because of MMSD dumping. There is one about a hundred yards down from Hubbard Park on the east bank of the river...but that is another ongoing battle...

  7. Thus, 150 cfs flowing over gravel in riffles vs. 150 cfs slowly moving through an impoundment vary considerably in speed. The slow water caused algae blooms in summer

    this also had the effect of reducing oxygen levels and greatly reducing the number of creatures that can live in the water, aquatic insects, freshwater crusteceans, fish and plants. the huge increase in aquatic diversity found in the river since the removal of the dam not only helps the section around north ave, but upstream into the kletsch park area as well. People only see what they want to see, as is evident in the many of the comments of the pro dam crowd on blogs like the river otter.


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