Kinni: Dams no longer needed

I grew up on a farm in Kinnickinnic Township. There, the upper Kinni flowed through our farm, north to south, flowing freely as it wound its way towards River Falls. Even today, 50-60 years after my childhood growing up on the Kinni I can walk along “our” stretch of the river and recall those wonderful memories of days gone by.

In his book “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold said, “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.”

The progress for River Falls, it could be said, was in part the installation of the dams. They were an essential part of the growth of that community, but I think their value has long past. The small electric generation produced is no longer an essential need, and the damage to the river greatly exceeds the value of the electricity. I believe we are in a time where global warming is affecting our climate. One result is a slow but steady increase in temperatures.

The dam impoundments are known to warm the water released into the lower Kinni. The increased temperatures of this impoundment water, added to the overall temperature increase in our part of the world spells disaster for the wild Kinni
trout downstream.

We are a community of knowledgeable, thoughtful, and caring citizens. While I appreciate that the history of our city’s success is, in part, tied to the dams they are in no way essential today. I don’t take the wild things for granted, nor should
you.

Dale Jorgenson
River Falls

Restoration of the Kinni

Restoration of the Kinnickinnic River through dam removal would help our river to stay cold and clean, provide additional green park space near our main street, and give us the opportunity to increase our use of solar power.

The dams are causing an increase of the river’s temperature from about 61 degrees above the dams to 65 degrees below the dams. This warming is approaching the threshold temperature for the survival of the trout and other living organisms in the river.

When the dams are removed, the stagnant and eutrophic waters of the impoundments will be replaced with a free flowing cold and clean river. New parkland with nesting area for waterfowl could be created where the impoundments exist today. Additional handicapped accessible trails would provide beautiful views of the river for all. Natural limestone waterfalls would again be exposed and likely attract more tourists to our town.

Our hydro-electric facility produces only 1 to 2 percent of the city’s total consumption of electricity. We could replace this with green solar energy without any negative effects on the Kinnickinnic River.

River Falls is a wonderful community! Let’s continue to share ideas and listen to each other. We all want what is best for our river and our town.

Please consider attending the multiday Kinnickinnic Corridor Planning Charrette (workshop) Oct. 25-28 at the library. Everyone in the community is invited to come and share ideas, learn, and give input as we all move forward to do what is best for the Kinnickinnic River and River Falls.

Sarah Hall
River Falls

Time to reclaim the Kinni

I have spent the last couple of weeks reading letters regarding dam removal in our city. Outside of the second letter, whose points were overshadowed by sarcasm and personal attacks, I have found both sides to be well thought out and meaningful.

One thing is clear: people care about this city! I do not have expertise in the area of dam removal, city planning, or the like. I am not an engineer. I am not on a committee and have never worked for or been related to someone who has worked for the electric company.

I have however, signed the petition for dam removal and I will explain why.

My older sister went to college in River Falls and that changed my life. My parents fell in love with the town and we moved here from Stillwater when I was 17. One might think, what a terrible time to move to a small town. One would usually be right. However, I love this town. I have always felt like a “River Fallsian” even though I was not born here. I spent several years living overseas and when it was time to return I came back to RF with my family because I wanted my children to grow up here.

I believe one thing our town is missing is an easy way to hang out and enjoy the Kinnickinnic River for families.

The lakes are not lakes, we can’t play in them, we can’t enjoy them. We can only look at them, and frankly they are not very attractive. I cannot understand how removing the dams will in any way endanger the small town charm of our community.

The Kinni is our river, it is naturally supposed to run all the way through our town. We clearly do not need what little power is generated by the dams. There are times that man-made structures outgrow their usefulness. For the dams, I believe that time is now.

I’d like to see our city take back the river that belongs to River Falls so that our citizens can enjoy it for generations to come!

Kareen Buri-Dodge
River Falls

Suggestions for the city’s ‘lakes’

I attended a Kinni Corridor Project meeting Oct. 5; it was most enlightening.

Until I went to the meeting, I was in favor of the dam removal and the restoration of the river’s natural flow through our city. After all, we’re the “City on the Kinni,” right?

Know what a charrette is?

Neither did I, so I looked it up. The first thing that struck me was that our city planners – who I thought were unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats – had been charretting like crazy. Obviously, a lot of time (if not thought) has gone into the development of the charrette.

I now see that I needed an attitude adjustment. I needed to see Lake George and Lake Louise as the treasures they really are, and not as the muck and silt depositories they appear to be.

To help others find this reality:

► Change our inviting motto from “City on the Kinni” to “River Falls – City of Lakes.” It’s worked for Minneapolis and Minocqua.

► Change the dates and arrangement of our “Art on the Kinni” attraction from September to late July and have it circle Lake George. Visiting artists could not only enjoy the visual beauty of the lake, they could smell it too. Artists are sensual
people.

► A new event, “The Carpenter Classic.” Sportsmen from all over the Midwest would flock to this event. Rods and reels would be optional as dip nets would scoop up floating fish. A citywide fish fry could be part of the final day’s award ceremony.

► Baptisms! What proud city resident wouldn’t want their newborn submerged in our lakes’ tranquil waters? Sinners of any age should have this ritual made available to them.

► Canoe/kayak rental! Imagine the revenue our city might garner from people looking to this wilderness experience! Better if Eskimo rolls are discouraged.

► The Goose Poop Bonanza! Another new event. Sometime in the fall, Scouts, 4-Hers and band members could collect floating goose poop as a contest and fundraiser. Dead geese, ducks, cats and dogs could also be collected but entered in a separate category.

► Pearl diving! Who knows what has settled to the bottom of our natural wonder? I’ve seen cans, bottles, condoms, golf balls, rakes, bikes, etc. there. There must be a pearl in there somewhere.

Timm Anderson
River Falls

Public support of dam removal

In December 2016, the Kinni River Corridor Project started its process of community engagement and education with an open house and mapping exercise. This was followed by a series of six “Tech Talks” on topics including corridor planning, river ecology, economic and neighborhood development, hydro facilities, dam removal, and recreation, tourism and economics.

The next step is a multi-day corridor planning charrette in late October. Through this process two main points have become overwhelmingly evident:

The first is that dams are a detriment to rivers and that dam removal is critical for river restoration to a more natural healthy state and that this process results in abundant recreational, tourism, and economic benefits for cities that undertake this process.

The second point is that there is strong community support for dam removal. From the summary of comments from the December public “kick-off” meeting there were 103 comments from people in attendance supporting river restoration/dam removal while only seven people in attendance commented in favor of maintaining the dams.

From the online comments submitted to this committee there were over 500 entries in favor of dam removal compared to less than 100 in favor of keeping the dams.

The first major milestone in this project will be a decision by the city council in February 2018 on whether to relicense the hydroelectric facilities in the dams or surrender those licenses and begin the process of restoring the river by removing the dams.

While the public sentiment is already heavily in favor of dam removal, I would encourage everyone to attend the planning charrette to continue to make your opinion known and to ensure that we restore a free flowing Kinnickinnic River and to bring the falls back to River Falls.

David Gregg
Town of River Falls

Truly make RF the City on the Kinni

I was blessed to move to River Falls from the flat lands of Western Minnesota nearly 40 years ago. I purchased a home in the southwest corner of town and was quick to discover that a couple hundred yards down the hill was the beautiful Kinni River.

Nearly every day since I have walked the Kinni with my dogs observing multiple species of birds, trout, deer, raccoons, opossum, otters, fox, rabbits, squirrels, and even one bear and a rattlesnake. The beauty of nature and sounds of the river have always brought me joy. When friends visit, they often ask, “Where is the falls?” I have always answered, “We don’t have falls anymore, we have dams and these ugly ponds in town, but just over the hill I can show you the beautiful Kinni.”

They too have been amazed by the Kinni. Now we have a chance to bring the beauty and wonders of the Kinni to the City. Removing the upper and lower dams would restore the natural beauty of the Kinni in River Falls. You get a glimpse of what removing the dams would do just by looking at the natural, flowing Kinni north of Division Street where once sat an ugly sediment pond.

Removing the two dams would restore a natural, flowing Kinni surrounded by public land and parks right in the middle of River Falls.

Since I have moved to River Falls so much has been done to beautify our city: parks, gardens, flowers, landscaped streets, and beautification of the UWRF campus. We now have a chance to truly make River Falls The City on the Kinni.

Please urge your friends, neighbors, and city officials to support this effort.

Dr. Robert Johnson
River Falls

An opportunity we can’t afford to miss, again

Dr. Michael S. Page

Today, we have the opportunity to completely restore the Kinnickinnic River and Junction Falls waterfall in the heart of our community through removal of the last two remaining dams in the Kinni.

In 1966 our community had an opportunity, but we missed it. And at a time when Northern States Power (NSP) actually gifted their three dams in the Willow River and all of the land surrounding their facility to the State of Wisconsin! That land today is Willow River State Park, which exists because NSP looked at their bottom line, the liability and expenses of their dams, and they grasped the opportunity to give away their dams to avoid significant expenses.

What did we do at that time? We rebuilt our Lower “Powell Falls” Dam at an expense that is as of yet unaccounted for in the City’s financial analysis. Can you imagine what River Falls would be like today if we had instead decided to restore the Kinni over 50 years ago?

NSP saw an opportunity in 1964, and they took it, and today we know full well the value of the Willow River State Park, as well as the great expense associated with maintaining dams.

Two of the dams have been removed at a fraction of the cost of their anticipated repairs, and also at a fraction of the estimated costs for their removal. Prior to their removal, the estimated costs were $622,000 and $1.1 million for the Willow Falls Dam and the Mounds Dam, upon completion of their removal the final costs of removal were only $450,000 and $170,000 respectively.

This is a trend seen throughout dam removals, of inflated estimated costs anticipated prior to the removal of a dam.

One of the dams, Willow Falls Dam, sat on top of the Willow Falls waterfall. Its removal in 1992 restored the Willow Falls waterfall that we see today, which is now the park’s most popular attraction. Prior to removal of the dam, the falls area below the dam was off limits to visitors.

In 1988 we had an opportunity, and again we missed it. With the licensing of our facility for the first time we were inclined to invest further, rehabilitating the Upper “Junction Falls” Dam for an expense of nearly $900,000 which has not yet been fully accounted for in the City’s financial analysis.

Again, can you imagine if we had enjoyed the last 30 years with a free-flowing Kinnickinnic River coursing through town with the restored Junction Falls waterfall below the Winter Street bridge?

In both cases, we failed to grasp the potential of an immense opportunity, and instead we chose to further invest in our facility, for a net financial loss to date when compared to simply purchasing the power instead.

According to the City of River Falls’ “2016 Committed Net Position Hydros Analysis,” our community has lost $93,781 from 1986 through 2016 compared to revenues that could have been derived through simply purchasing the power, rather than generating the power ourselves at the expense of the degradation of the Kinnickinnic River.

We’ve done this in order to generate 1-2 percent of the electricity our community consumes at the expense of the health of the Kinnickinnic River, and at the expense of the opportunity cost of what a fully restored Kinnickinnic River and Junction Falls waterfall could have been for our community.

Our community has missed the boat on this opportunity. Even with the preliminary nature of the City’s current financial analysis we clearly see that our investments have been a poor financial choice for our community. If we knew in 1988, what we know today, we never would have rehabilitated the Upper Dam, we would have instead chosen to remove the dams and restore the Kinnickinnic River in its entirety.

We cannot afford to miss this opportunity again, or our children will be having this same conversation in another 30 years!

Dam advocate group spreads misinformation at Tech Talk

By Dan Wilcox

Dams are built structures that get old. Rivers are powerful, constant and patient. Remember your images of free-flowing rivers and waterfalls and the words of Wendell Berry, “Men may dam it and say that they have made a lake, but it will still be a river. It will keep its nature and bide its time, like a caged animal alert for the slightest opening. In time, it will have its way; the dam, like the ancient cliffs, will be carried away piecemeal in the currents.”

On the evening of Sept. 7, I was disturbed to see a small group of dam advocates passing out a brochure inside the River Falls Public Library during a Kinni Corridor Tech Talk meeting. That was most inappropriate at a City-sponsored educational meeting about the future of the Kinni. The brochure is replete with misinformation.

The brochure describes the two hydropower reservoirs in River Falls as lakes. They are not lakes. They are impoundments. They do not provide a “unique natural environment.” As an aquatic ecologist with 40 years of professional experience I can assure you that the dams harm the river environment. The impoundments are nearly filled with sediment and no longer provide a “sediment basin for the settling of sand brought down by the upper Kinni and the outflow of 25 city storm drains.” They are not “drawing water from the bottom of the dam to help cool the summer stormwater runoff and in turn, cool the lower Kinni.”

The fact is that temperature monitoring has demonstrated that the impoundments warm the river water during the summer, raising the water temperature of the lower Kinni by about 4°F, stressing the cold-water river ecosystem and trout.

The brochure recommends dredging the two hydro impoundments to make them deeper. “You don’t throw away your vacuum cleaner because the bag is full.” Having worked for decades with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I know that dredging and dredged material placement is very costly and difficult.

Floating fountains in the impoundments would not aerate and cool the water but would in fact further warm the river. The brochure claims that the electrical generating revenues exceed the costs of maintaining the dams and that this is a free power source. The City of River Falls records indicate that this is nearly a wash. The costs of relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, costs of improvements to the dams to comply with environmental mitigation requirements and future dam rehabilitation costs would put the dams into the economic loser category for the City.

This is certainly not free energy.

The dams currently generate less than 2 percent of the electricity used in the City. That power can be readily replaced from wind and solar sources. The brochure claims that the Junction Falls dam is a waterfall. It is not a waterfall. It is an ugly concrete structure that has little water going over it most of the time.

Removing the dams and restoring the river would provide a series of rapids and pools through the middle of the City. The Kinni was once impounded by a dam at Division Street. That dam is no longer there and the reach of the river upstream is beautiful and free-flowing again.

The drained impoundments could become excellent park areas with walking trails along the river. People could go kayaking or trout fishing along downtown River Falls. Stormwater infiltration ponds could provide roosting areas for waterfowl. River Falls could become renowned for its cascading scenic river, rather than for its scummy impoundments.

Speakers at the recent Kinni Corridor Tech Talk emphasized the social and economic benefits of dam removal and river restoration for communities. We should envision a future Kinni without the dams.

As the late Bruce Foster said, “To do the right thing at the right time is a wonderful thing.”