Kinni Dam Removal Update

“One year from now, that dam will be out and the sediment will have been landscaped,” River Falls City Utilities Manager Kevin Westhuis told a Kinni Planning team in late May. That prediction was based on the news that a $1-million DNR Municipal Dam Grant had been awarded to the city to take out the Powell Falls Dam.  


TU’s Wisconsin State Council at its June meeting contributed $20,000 to the dam removal effort and encouraged chapters to match it with another $20,000. So far at least $9,000 toward that goal has been pledged or contributed by chapters.


Last weekend the Mid-Missouri Chapter of TU, meeting at a campground on Castle Rock Creek in Iowa County, voted to donate $10,000 to the Kinni Dam removal effort. Those contributions will bring the total pledged or paid to the project by TU entities to more than $175,000. 


That news capped a full month of busy activity for volunteers working toward removal of the dam on this Class I trout stream, which is also the only Outstanding Resource Water in Wisconsin flowing through a town of more than 10,000 people The city, which owns the dams, decided to remove them back in 2018, but had a long-range plan to take out the first by 2026 and the second by 2046, unless the money could be found sooner. TU helped advocate for changes in state dam funding which made more funding available, and a fortuitous flood in 2020 damaged the Powell Falls Dam and helped speed the process.


State Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) had been a key supporter of the proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to hike the municipal dam grant funding. He said, “River Falls receiving this grant is great news. These funds will help with transforming the Kinni and I’m glad I could play a role in facilitating this funding.”


Estimated costs of the initial dam removal phase, sediment management and monitoring are at $3.3 million. With the funding in place, the dam demolition and removal and bank stabilization of the 15-acre former impoundment can start just after January 1. The city, whose utilities have maintained the two generating dams since early in the 20th century, will contribute $1. 2 million. Overall fundraising is at $2.5 million and counting.


TU’s two chapters closest to the Kinnickinnic River are the Kiap-TU-Wish chapter, which has protected the river for 50 years and provided 30 years of key monitoring data, and the Twin Cities TU chapter, many of whose 2,000 members are regular Kinni anglers. They are both strongly invested in the project, with financial support and volunteers who populate many of the fundraising teams. Other chapters, including some in Minnesota and three of four in Illinois, have also stepped up with financial support.


This summer the city is expected to develop more refined budget estimates to be used in soliciting bids for the project, which could be opened late in the year. Work is expected to begin early in 2023. At the same time, a work group of volunteers is planning the next steps to develop the new city park where the former impoundment lay. 


A recent development is the expression of interest by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get involved in the project. The Corps helped pay about $225,000 toward some of the pre-decision studies ordered by the federal agency which licenses the two small electrical generating dams, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The results of those and other studies conducted by the city’s contactors and DNR showed the benefits to the river of dam removal. The Corps reviewed those studies and reached a preliminary conclusion it was interested in participating in some fashion. A feasibility study is expected to begin shortly. If the Corps is involved in removing either or both dams, it would bring significant funding but will take some years to complete. 


Some involved in the effort suggest encouraging the Corps to take on the second dam removal since the fundraising for the first is well under way. The second removal, the Junction Falls Dam, would enable the city to modify 65 or more stormwater inflow sites in the former upper impoundment so that rainwater off the downtown area could be cooled and settled and infiltrate into groundwater before it reached the river. The city’s business community is interested in developing a River Walk along the newly-freed river, and Corps help could aid the infrastructure necessary for that part of the project, as well as the stormwater system modifications. 


Donors of $250 or more will be able to receive a concrete core paperweight from the Powell Falls Dam, cut by Randy Arnold and inscribed, “Powell Falls Dam RIP—Free the Kinni.” Donors of $100 or more will be able to receive a nifty pin for their fishing/hiking/birdwatching/paddling hat with the “Free the Kinni” logo.