Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grafton votes to keep ‘historic and iconic’ dam and millpond on the Milwaukee River

Citizens of Grafton voted by an overwhelming majority (75%) to keep the dam on the Milwaukee River, and prevent the village board from using federal dollars available to remove the dam. The Wisconsin DNR has ordered the village to replace/repair the dam by 2019 in order to be in compliance with new flood control measures.

It is no wonder that the referendum passed. The wording was one-sided, and no mention was made of the larger issues of dam compliance, federal funds available, or any vision of a restored river. When the time comes to repair or replace the dam, the folks of Grafton will most likely have to pony up the funds themselves.

Too bad that Grafton is not able to envision the asset that a free-flowing river can provide to the community, wildlife, and all recreational users downstream of their impoundment.

Water quality on the river has improved so much that stoneflies have now become resident. Stoneflies only hatch in areas with oxygen-rich water that is free of siltation. Areas of the river that run wild have seen a recent return of bald eagles, nesting wood ducks, and other signs that nature appreciates the return of a restored river.

The Estabrook Dam has been open now for several years, and the water clarity downstream is the best this writer has ever observed. The lack of the seasonal opening and closing of the weir to fill and draw down the impoundment has allowed the river to cut channels in the silt backed up by the dam, and that very silt has been more or less blocked from pouring into the lower river.

The dam at Limekiln Park in Grafton is slated to be removed this spring, and the dam at Thiensville has received a new fish ladder, allowing migratory fish species such as sturgeon, bass, pike, and steelhead to ascend to new spawning waters.

All in all, our river, which used to be denigrated for its stench, is well on its way to recovery after years of being ‘managed’ by man. It is just kind of sad that the village of Grafton has refused to be part of a new vision for a restored river that already has proved an aesthetic, recreational, and natural asset in areas where it has been allowed to recover.


  1. Weak! This is a short sighted and selfish decision for certain...

    Couple of thoughts:

    What is the next step, or is this it? (Why won't the DNR step in and end the discussion? What is the point of upriver fish passage with a dam in the middle?)


    How do we ensure that there isn't a penny of money for reconstruction except from the residents of Grafton? I would like to see a front page article explaining the assessment the county is going to raise on each household of that village to pay for this. (If they insist on ruining the river, then they better pay for it themselves!)


  2. This is it for now. The referendum is binding. The dam stays until either 2019 or until it is deemed unsound. Either way, in ten years, Grafton will have a heck of a decision to make, and they will be footing the bill either way. They missed the opportunity that the village board pounced upon to have removal payed for by federal dollars.

    The fish passage is required by law now. It is part of a plan to restore the native fishes to the Milwaukee, especially Walleye and Sturgeon.

  3. He Erik:

    Do we know how soon they could fill the lake again, or will it have to stay open until 2019 when they are forced to pay to repair it?


  4. The impoundment above the Grafton dam, known affectionately to Graftonians as "Our pond" currently is filled, and will remain that way until the dam is either re-built or demolished.

    The Estabrook Dam impoundment however, must remain drawn down until repairs are studied/budgeted/etc. or the county repairs it and turns it into a hydro-dam producing enough energy to light a house, or they make it a circus attraction.... Ugh.


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