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Hydro Dam discourse

Options for river structure topic of Tuesday forum

February 29, 2012
Messenger News



Messenger staff writer

David Fierke, Fort Dodge city manager, and Nate Hoogeven, Department of Natural Resources river programs coordinator, were the guest speakers of the Well-Informed Webster People at their monthly meeting Tuesday, at Light of the City Conference Center.

The topic was the future of the Hydroelectric Dam. More than 50 people were in attendance.

"What we want to accomplish is finding out what people want to do with the dam," moderator Sharon Hickey said. "This is an emotional topic. The dam has been here a long time."

According to Fierke, the city put to rest the plan for the hydroelectric dam that was in place. A study was done in 2010 to make it safer for recreation, since the dam is so unsafe. Also, to see if it could possibly generate a cashflow for the city. The study found that this option would not work, and the city would be operating at a 20-year loss.

Removing the dam completely was a costly, complicated option, Fierke said.

"If we completely remove the dam, there's cost in removing the sediment," he said. "You can't just take it out. We want to figure out what that cost will be, for whatever action we decide to take."

Fierke added that there is no money budgeted or plans associated with dam removal or fixing the dam.

The city is taking into consideration the needs of incoming companies such as Cargill that need water for its operations. Cargill specifically would need 25 million gallons of water daily, Fierke said.

"The direction is sort of still up in the air about what we're going to do," he said. "We haven't spent any money."

Hoogeven said there were two issues regarding the hydroelectric dam: public safety and sediment built up behind it. The DNR did a study last year to determine sediment movement.

"If you just flush all of that sediment downstream, it could cause pools to fill up and be a habitat problem," he said. "You could get complaints from anglers whose favorite fishing hole has just filled up, for example."

The DNR issued a "fix-it ticket" that requires the city to repair its gate, per regulation. According to Hoogeven, the cost of replacing damaged or underperforming gates ranges from $500,000 to several million. While there is no assistance for gate repair, there is assistance for fish passage and recreation, he explained.

Safety is also an issue, and the risk of failure, Hoogeven said. He referenced the failure of the Dehli Dam.

"The risk of failure can be a big deal," he said. "If there is a failure, it can send debris downstream."

Hoogeven provided some solutions. He suggested using rock arch rapids, removal with river restoration, staged dam removal, or turning it into a recreational area, with fish passage and a whitewater area literally side-by-side, height-reduction with a rock ramp, or taking out and replacing the dam with rapids. He showed where such options had been successfully elected in other parts of Iowa.

Hoogeven recommended removing the dam in stages.

"Just simply removing the dam in a staged way would provide a benefit for the community," he said.

A first question asked from the audience was would there be enough water to supply the ag park?

"Yes," Fierke said. "It's a combination of river and ground water. We can't run a river dry."

County Supervisor Clark Fletcher, attending the meeting, was able to provide some helpful information regarding the question.

"We all know that the river is kind of low right now," he said. "Last week, the river was flowing at 225 cubic feet a second down the Des Moines River. One cubic foot of water has 7.48 gallons. That translates, last week, 1,683 gallons of water flowing per second down the river. We've got a lot of water coming down the river."

Fierke said safety was the priority.

"When I say dam safety, I mean the danger of someone going over the spillway and drowning," he said. "This is coming out of the city, the DNR and the Army Core of Engineers. We need to do something about the safety for the recreational users of the dam."

He added, "We have not done anything to proceed with just fixing the gate because we don't know what we're going to have long term for a structure. I would consider it good money after bad fixing the gate."

Several members of the audience disagreed that safety was an issue, and that the concerns of people who enjoyed fishing should be met.

Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141




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