Low water levels, sediment near Morrow Dam cause concerns

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Low water levels on Morrow Lake in Kalamazoo County are causing concerns about the health of the local fish population.

The lake level was brought to make repairs to Morrow Dam last fall, but that project has faced delays.

People who use the lake and the river are concerned sediment washing downstream is hurting the ability of fish to reproduce.

Ryan Baker has been fishing in the area for decades. He says something needs to be done to make the repairs and to address the water quality issue.

“It’s pretty much black. I mean you can see just plumes of clouds and silt and sediment rolling downstream, which for this time of year it should be pretty clear at least a couple feet of visibility and right now, we’re looking at maybe six inches,” Baker said.

Fishing guide Jon Lee says after Morrow Lake was lowered above the dam so repairs could be made in November, everyone was expecting the project to be finished in the spring, but delays have meant a nearly empty lake remains.

“Being that it’s a construction project, things take time and rarely go on schedule, so you’re left with what you have now,” Lee said.

He says the lower water levels have meant more sediment is moving downstream, and with fewer fish, his business is taking a hit.

“(I’m) at the point of having to make a decision to completely close shop until the water level is clear or go elsewhere,” Lee said.

Low water levels on Morrow Lake in Kalamazoo County to help make repairs to the dam. (June 17, 2020)

Baker says the dam needs to be repaired as soon as possible and cleanup of the river needs to begin immediately.

“The sooner we can get something done to fix the sediment issue, the better,” Baker said.

STS Hydropower, LLC is the company that now owns the dam.

“To mitigate potential impacts to fish and wildlife we worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), among others, to protect natural, environmental, cultural, and recreational resources during the lake drawdown. This work included an extensive, 16-day field survey as we relocated aquatic organisms, mussels, fish, and other species stranded during the drawdown,” STS Hydropower said in a statement.

The company says they expect the lake to be refilled by seasonal precipitation before the 2021 recreational season.

The dam itself is regulated but the federal government, but the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy says it is working with the DNR and the owner of the dam to address any environmental issues related to the low water levels.

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