Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Lipscomb memorial hydroelectric boondoggle dam

The hydo-power pink elephant

The latest on the Estabrook dam issue. Milwaukee County Supervisor Lipscomb introduced a proposal to repair the stoplog structure on the spillway section of the dam, which was passed unanimously by the PEE committee and now moves on to the entire county board. The aim is that the stoplog repair will allow the filling of the impoundment behind the dam thus providing the desired water level for boating. The WDNR has stated that the dam needs much more attention and repair than simply replacing the missing stoplog structures. They will likely issue an order to prevent filling of the impoundment unless all ordered repairs are completed.

The supervisors will also vote on whether to put out an RFP for debris removal.

The other amendment attached to the $5,000.00 stoplog repair calls for a study of the potential of the dam being modified or replaced to generate hydroelectric power.

Who can spot the pink elephant?

The Milwaukee River is a spate river defined by a spring flow at its headwaters, and a huge watershed that drains 882 square miles in 6 counties. It is dominated by rainfall and snowmelt runoff. It fluctuates wildly between 100 cfs (cubic feet per second) in low summer flows, to over 9,000 cfs in flood events. Its flow often increases by ten to twenty times after a significant rainfall.

Rivers of this character are poor candidates for hydroelectric generation. The wildly fluctuating flows would leave the generator dry at low flow, and overwhelm it after rainfall. The way man has historically tried to tame rivers of this sort is to build an impoundment behind the dam to build up the supply of water so that more constant flow can be maintained. The impoundments are not small such as the 100 acre Estabrook impoundment, but must be larger and deeper in order to be cost effective. The impoundment would most likely have to be increased in size, possibly necessitating the relocation of those very residents calling for the dam’s preservation.

In addition, a larger deeper impoundment is going backwards in environmental terms. Any hydroelectric generation would have to pass strict federal standards, and undergo environmental impact studies, which it never would.

I think a study is actually a good idea if conducted properly. It would lay to rest any debate concerning feasibility of hydroelectric generation for good.

Mr. Lipscomb is grasping at any straw he can to get his way in this very personal fight for him. His Maternal grandfather operated the dam for a period.

What’s next… painting the dam green in order to pass it off as a boon to the environment?
A fresh coat of paint and a sign stating "Estabrook Eco-dam" should solve all the issues...


  1. Well, painting it green would cover the graffiti, anyway.

  2. If the county board allocates any money to 'investigating' whether or not the Estabrook dam would be a viable for hydroelectric power, I cry foul. What a pure waste of public money. And yes, Eric, you are exactly correct, the size of the impoundment needed to make it viable would likely necessitate that many people living upstream of the impoundment would need to move. There are some many other obvious factors that make this such a silly proposal. Shame on them and that includes Lipscomb and the rest of the parks committee.

  3. I agree that Lipscomb et al. are grasping at straws and studying the feasibility of hydroelectricity potential at this site is absurd and a waste of money.

    @coulee: If I understand correctly, we don't have to worry about the County wasting money on this study (sort of). They are applying for a grant to pay for half of the study and the City of Glendale is going to front the other half. So, Glendale is wasting good money and I'm sure grant money that the County gets could go towards more fruitful projects.

  4. Maybe John Apple could donate some money towards the hydrodam? He could have his own brick engraved with "Donated by John Apple of Milwaukee Steelheaders for Dams". I think that would be really fitting.


  5. Well the county has done such a great job of managing the current dam, I don't see what the big deal is. Let them run a larger and much more complex impoundment since they have done so well their dilapidated garbage collector. The current decision (4/23) to approve the "repairs" and funding for a study on hydro is a joke, will the DNR allow them to fill it this summer? From my reading of the DNR info about the issue, it seems they are the ones to sign off on this (maybe some more looking the other way-- ala MMSD dumping). Lips(comb)tick on a pig. This whole thing makes me want to puke.

  6. Willie;
    Makes me disappointed in county government. Band-aid fix and useless study.
    No, the DNR will not allow the impoundment to be filled. Lipscomb and MRPA may sue or file suit, but it looks like the next step is with the DNR. Repair fully or abandon.

    The county should be ashamed. Who let the dam decay? Who did not perform ordered maintenance and repairs? Who ignored safety issues, and now wants to sidestep the issue with a band-aid fix? If they feel intimidated by the DNR, they should look in the mirror to find where the fault lies.

    Tanya Meyer's comment was interesting. These types of dams have a typical lifespan, and this one is past it.

  7. Ken Leinbach from the Urban Ecology Center has made up his mind about what should be done with this dam. I think it is great that even though he admits that he would like to see the dam stay for several reasons, by using logical reasoning he concluded that the dam should go!

    What is even more ironic is the fact that many dam proponents have used the argument that Lincoln Park would be devastated by the removal of the Estabrook Dam. That is one way to look at it, and we all know that when people are grasping at straws to keep the dam they become very short-sighted. It is nice to know that there are still people around who understand that Lincoln Park could be an even better gem with a natural river system flowing through it.

    Here is his position:

  8. Just stopping by to say "Hi"- since the party moved over to Erik's place. :)
    Jason- I have read Ken's position paper and feel that his logical reasoning is mostly fueled by enlightened self-interest: he has taken the position of his funding sources.

  9. R.O.
    "enlightened self-interest"???

    Ken represents the Urban ECOLOGY Center, perhaps it is ECOLOGY that led to his decision. The ecology of rivers and their health. Ken weighed the issues very carefully, as is clear in his position paper, and it was a difficult process for him to come to the conclusion he did. I believe he weighed the benefits of the Lincoln Park lagoons (impoundment) vs. the overall health and benefits to the Milwaukee River of removing the dam and allowing the river to heal itself. Boating opportunities will change for them, but they also will gain a section of river to hold educational classes for children as they now do at Hubbard Park. What an opportunity Ken will have if the dam is removed and years later he can teach by the river and show the power of nature to heal and rebound from man's best intentions to tame and manage it.

    Lincoln Park would lose the lagoons, but gain park space and a clean and beautiful river running through it.


Comments by interested readers are welcome. Back links to non-topical (spam) websites will be treated as spam and deleted.