Drawdown of flowage would have huge impact on small community
Removal of Clam Falls dam could occur this year
See more information at facebook.com/pg/Save-Clam-Falls-Flowage-Dam-1498730010370437/posts/.
Jackie Moody and Renee Nanez | Clam Falls Flowage Lakeshore Association
CLAM FALLS – The Clam River may soon be running free as the Clam Falls Flowage Dam owned and operated by Northwestern Wisconsin Electric Company appears to be headed for abandonment and removal. NWEC reports that they are scheduled to begin lowering the water level by 4 feet at a rate of 6 inches a day starting as soon as ice is out this spring; however, no WDNR Environmental Impact Study has yet been conducted on the flowage and wildlife around the lake.
The Clam Falls dam was built in 1914 and modified around 1953. It has not produced electricity since 1986. It has a maximum height of 35 feet and impounds the 127-acre Clam Falls Flowage. A bridge in the town of Clam Falls crosses the flowage on CTH I just upstream a few feet from the dam. The flowage itself flows north and bleeds into the upper reaches of McKenzie Creek Wildlife Area. A portion of the Ice Age Trail crosses the Clam River inside the wildlife area and just downstream from the southern reach of the flowage.
The dam received a “significant hazard” rating in May 2017 by the Wisconsin DNR. An NWEC engineering study done by Ayres and Associates determined the dam could remain operational at a cost of $1.5 million.
On Aug. 1, 2019, NWEC made an offer to both the town of Clam Falls and to Polk County. Under the terms, NWEC would transfer ownership of the dam and provide $750,000 for removal and remediation. Both the town and Polk County have subsequently rejected the offer.
The Clam River, McKenzie Creek and Maple Valley Creek flow into the Clam Falls Flowage. Somewhere under that pool of water the two creeks merge into the Clam River, presumably creating a rush of current that creates the falls. Geologically, the area of Clam Falls, and the rolling terrain around it, mark the terminal end of the St. Croix advance of the Superior glacial lobe. Approximately 70 acres of the flowage lie outside the northern boundary of McKenzie Creek Wildlife Area.
The Clam River flows northwesterly from the dam into Clam Lake in southern Burnett County. It emerges out from the lake and begins a 20-mile this-way-that-way flow of crazy oxbow twists and turns before reaching a second dam just below its confluence with the St. Croix River in the Governor Knowles State Park.
Due to the proximity of over 3,000 acres of county/state land, Clam Falls Flowage sustains abundant wildlife in the area including dozens of trumpeter swans that winter in the southern portion of the flowage where ice doesn’t form due to the movement of the incoming creek water; they also nest and raise their young at Clam Falls Flowage. Several species of ducks, including mallards and wood ducks, loons and Canada geese nest and raise their young along the shoreline. Bald eagles build their nests in lakeside trees, depend on the lake for food, and raise their babies. Sandhill cranes, great blue herons, northern pike, bass, crappies, perch, sunfish and bluegills, painted turtles, snapping turtles, beavers, muskrats, otters and any number of other birds, animals and fish are part of the melange of animals living around and in the lake. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission has also recently documented that approximately 10 acres of wild rice grows in the flowage.
Also, because of the county/state land being adjacent to the flowage, there is a large percentage of the lakefront that will never be developed, allowing for the small lake to be enjoyed by everyone and not privately owned.
The concern of citizens in the area is that it has not been studied and addressed, what a huge impact removing the dam would have on their small community. Clam Falls is a very typical small Wisconsin town, with one church, one bar, two campgrounds and several cottage industries including a cabin rental business, a boat/pontoon cover business and several area farmers.
There are also other areas of consideration that will in all probability be impacted by removal of the dam. Tourism will decline without a doubt. The two campgrounds on the flowage with a total of over 100 sites will affect over 100 families that usually bring many tourism dollars to the area. Groceries, gas, restaurant meals, money spent on entertainment, etc., will decrease. Land values will be negatively affected and hunting license revenue will also suffer. The Frederic and Lorain fire departments rely on the dry hydrant on the flowage for their water supply in case of a fire in the area. Private wells will also be affected.
Another consideration is who would be responsible for the restoration of the area and to what extent would it be left with the look of a war zone? Who would be responsible for the cost of restoration and how much would that cost?
As a fifth-generation Clam Falls resident and campground owner on the swampy side of the lake has said, “Our lives, as well as the lives of the entire community, would be affected by the removal of the dam because we all enjoy boating, fishing, goose and duck hunting, swimming from the rope swing or jumping off the bridge, canoeing, kayaking or just enjoying a beautiful sunset over the water.”
The fear of the dam removal has been of great concern for the past five years, but now a group of citizens has formed the Clam Falls Flowage Lake Association to raise the funds needed for the annual cost to maintain the dam ($5,000) and to assist with the annual liability insurance cost of $15,000 through membership fees and fundraisers. These expenses to maintain the dam are only going to be needed if a new owner is found for the dam: someone who would partner with the Clam Falls community to keep the flowage and dam intact. Funding is available to help with a portion of the repairs and possible upgrades could enable the dam to be functional and productive once again.
On Saturday, Feb. 15, state Sen. Patty Schachtner arrived in Clam Falls to meet with the CFFLA members and to offer encouragement and advice. Schachtner shared that as natural areas like the Clam Falls Flowage are slowly disappearing, so is the enjoyment of outdoor sportsmanship and fishing, wild ricing and wholesome nature activities among our youth, who are our future.
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