Marcy Hamilton is the Senior Planner and Deputy Executive Director at the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. In 2011, Marcy and her team successfully removed the Watervliet Dams on the Paw Paw River in Michigan. The Watervliet Dams were built at the beginning of the 20th century to supply the Watervliet Paper Company Mill but they were left abandoned for more than 50 years.
More than a decade after their removals, Marcy shared with us the various obstacles that they encountered along the way. The obstacles ranged from securing funding to overcoming public opposition. Additionally, Marcy highlighted that a canoe and kayak water trail has since been designated along the Paw Paw River. The water trail has become a hub of recreational activity, providing the local community with improved access to the river and numerous outdoor adventures.
[Marcy] Funding is always challenging. The project was funded by the NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - $922,759; Berrien County - $25,000; Michigan Department of Natural Resources $56,198; US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Passage $100,000.
There was some public opposition to the dam removals because some folks fished at the dam and were able to catch steelhead [an introduced species] and other migrating fish whose upstream movements were obstructed by the dams. In response, several public meetings were held to present the benefits of dam removal and overall benefits to fisheries.
Also, there were folks in the community who had family that worked at the paper mills and the dams were the only physical remnant left from their existence and operation. The project team responded by working with the local history organization to conduct a tour of the site and to erect a sign that detailed the history of the paper mill and the importance it had in the community.
Biological monitoring was difficult because the river is a medium-sized, non-wadable system with abundant large woody debris. This limited the biological monitoring methods and effectiveness.
[Marcy] Since the removal of the dams, the communities along the Paw Paw River have organized with assistance from the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Two Rivers Coalition to develop a water trail for canoes and kayaks. The water trail is financially supported by the municipalities and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, who have land along the river. The water trail is a wonderful recreational resource that locals and visitors enjoy.