Morrow Dam project nearly done amid environmental concerns

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The company that owns Morrow Dam in Kalamazoo County says it is getting close to finishing the project to replace the main spillway gates.

Crews are preparing for the second and final gate to arrive by the end of this month.

The first gate is now operational, according to Jody Smet, the vice president of regulatory affairs with Eagle Creek Renewable Energy.

Environmental groups say the process has resulted in massive amounts of sediment washing downstream.

Ryan Baker, president of the Kalamazoo River Alliance, says the project has caused long-term damage.

“It’s basically been devastating for the fish, not only the fish but the whole ecosystem at this point aquatic insects, fish, muscles, invertebrates. Everything is covered in mud,” Baker said.

The Canadian based company that owns the dam says replacing the gates was necessary to ensure safety. It has installed 8,000 feet of sediment controls, which include barriers and curtains, the company said.

“All the parties involved regret the impacts to the environment, to the public, to the recreation opportunities,” Smet said.

The company initially thought the gates could be repaired within a matter of months. But the project has now gone on for about a year.

Once the remaining gate is installed, Smet says Morrow Lake will be allowed to refill at a rate of approximately six inches per day.

“We anticipate that might take up to a 30-day period to get the reservoir back up to full pool, so we expect the reservoir to be back at its new normal pool elevation sometime in January,” Smet says.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said it has issued several violations against Eagle Creek Renewable Energy.

Kyle Alexander, the water resources division supervisor for the EGLE Kalamazoo district, says fines have not been issued at this point but remain possible.

“In recent months, we have seen some improvements. There have been some downward trends in turbidity that have started to come more into alignment with what we would expect to see. Some of that may be seasonal changes on the river, and some of it hopefully is due to some of the corrective measures that Eagle Creek, the owner and operator, have put into place,” Alexander said.

Eagle Creek Renewable Energy is conducting an environmental field study. The company could be required to remove sediment and conduct projects to restore the river ecosystem.

The Environmental Protection Agency is now involved in addressing the issue with state and other federal regulators.

The Kalamazoo River Alliance is calling for significant action, including projects to help the river recover.

“We need to hold them accountable for doing things like river restoration, whether that’s native grasses or fixing fish habitat, boat access, things like that,” Baker said.

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