Undammed River Rewilding, for Now

September 7, 2021

In spring of 2020, I found out that a planned trip to Svalbard with a science team was cancelled – the high Arctic island’s research center stopped taking in outside guests, due to Covid-19.
In the past decade, I’ve been half a dozen times to the arctic, where climate change is readily apparent. But now, climate impacts were coming to me.

On May 19, the dam at Edenville Michigan, one of a chain of dams in Central Michigan, gave way following intense spring rains. It’s about 20 miles as the crow flies from my house.
An increasing frequency of torrential rainstorms in recent decades, combined with the decaying structure of the dam, lead to the failure. The impounded waters of Wixom Lake drained immediately downstream, wiping out rows of full grown trees and crushing a concrete highway bridge.

Immediately downstream, the lower Sanford, Michigan dam was overtopped and destroyed by the wall of water flowing from the upper lake.

The Village of Sanford was devastated.

The drone footage above was shot 2 days after those failures.

It turns out I’d had a great conversation with Kerry Emanuel of MIT just a few months previously, where we talked about the increasing flood risks, not just in coastal areas, but across the United States.
I used some of his most salient comments in my Yale Climate Connections video that month.

So this summer I wanted to go back and look again at the Sanford site – there is a nice lookout point just above the waterlogged dam site.
It makes one cast one’s mind back to imagine what these shores looked like 200 years ago.

For now.
But with a massive, and desperately needed, infrastructure bill pending, the Edenville and Sanford dams have been named by The Washington Post as “Infrastructure projects to watch”.

Washington Post:

Nature is returning to craters left from lakes drained by two dams that failed in May during torrential rain in mid-Michigan.

But not always in a good way.

“Shortly after the water receded, you could look out over the exposed bottom lands of the lake and it was like looking at the Sahara Desert,” said Dave Rothman, a board member with the Four Lakes Task Force, which is looking to obtain the four dams as well as the two lakes that were not drained. “That persisted on through about the middle of July. And then all that 90-plus degree weather that we had, then we started to get some rain and over the course of two weeks, the lake bottoms just mushroomed with plants.”

Four Lakes Task Force wants to use eminent domain to gain ownership of four Midland-area dams — including the Edenville and Sanford dams that failed in the May 19 storms, sending water raging down the Tittabawassee River and flooding homes and businesses.

The flooding destroyed 150 houses and caused more than $200 million in property damage in the Midland area.

Plants are now rising from the craters that were once the two lakes. Purple loosestrife, an invasive flowering plant, is sprouting up — a problem that Rothman said will be resolved by galerucella beetles that were released in the area in the 1990s and that eat purple loosestrife.

A bigger concern is that poplar trees are growing as dense as seven trees per square foot in what was once Wixom Lake, Rothman said.

“When we first started to get reports of these and go out and look at these seedlings just coming up this year, they were maybe 15 inches high in front of one of my friends’ houses,” Rothman said. “Two weeks later he went out and looked at the same trees and they’re now almost 30 inches high.”

Given the right conditions, fertile ground and moisture, poplar trees can grow to 5 feet (1.5 meters) in a year, Rothman said. If the lake doesn’t return for five years, the trees could be 20 feet (6 meters) high and will be harder to remove.

But the biggest issue by far is erosion, Rothman said. With the exposed ground drying out, the shoreline, now clifflike, is becoming increasingly unstable, crumbling in closer and closer to what were once lakefront homes.

Four Lakes Task Force estimates it will cost more than $30 million to stop the erosion, remove the debris left by the flooding and stabilize all four dams. The goal is do all this in two years before further damage can be done to the 6,000 homes on the lakes valued at about $800 million, Trapani said.

Rothman said that as the task force looks at plans to rebuild the two broken dams and strengthen the other two, safety will be the priority. He said they will meet contemporary requirements for dam construction and spillway capacity.

“Our No. 1 principle for doing work to bring the lakes back is to make sure that when we rebuild the dams, this can’t happen again,” Rothman said.

14 Responses to “Undammed River Rewilding, for Now”


  1. Note that hydroelectric power plays a vital role in “100% renewable energy” schemes, and Mark Jacobson wants to build a lot more dams, which might make you pause. The notion that he’s an environmentalist has been a crock from the start. Segue from that into other “green” assaults on nature and it’s clearer that the Green New Deal is Manifest Destiny 2.0. It’s less smoky but far more growthy.

    Click to access renewable-rap-battle-a-scathing-critique-of-mark-jacobsons-100-renewable-grid-proposal.pdf

    Biomass is the biggest component of RE100, though. Burning trees and calling it green = more logging sneaking in sideways. “Planet of the Humans” did a good job exposing this, but of course got bashed by quasi-green shills who need to maintain an image.

    Those who seek to remove water dams (it sounds green in principle) are oddly apathetic about blight from far more visible air dams. You either have a huge low-lying generator or many smaller ones in the sky. Yeah, wind turbines. Water is far denser than air, thus more efficient for electricity generation. It’s also more reliable. Dismantling existing large dams just means something else “green” will have to replace them, cause damage to nature elsewhere.

    There’s no free lunch in the endless growth diner.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      As someone with several neuroses of my own, I’ve come to realize you suffer from Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder with respect to wind turbines. You don’t seem to be upset by the many places that are spoiled by oil and gas fields and spills, or the smell of car exhaust.

      You show an aerial view of wind turbines: Do you yourself fly a lot or are you just looking for pictures that have wind turbines in them? I can send you lots of pictures of beautiful mountain views with no wind turbines.

      Can you not afford to move to places where there won’t ever be wind turbines on the ridges?


      • It’s not OCD, it’s about SCALE. <– Learn that word, someone. Do you think a guy like John Muir had OCD when he didn't want the Yosemite area ruined? An old "renewables" project called Hetch Hetchy comes to mind. The wind power crowd is just damming the air, blathering about how "beautiful" it must be because they can't hide it from the public.

        Wind turbines are far and wide the most visible form of energy production (rather, redirection) ever invented. For example, you can drive near vast coal mines* east of Wright, Wyoming and barely know they exist, but this obscenely large mess south of Rawlins will be impossible to miss by anyone in range.

        https://forestpolicypub.com/2020/07/15/renewable-energy-on-federal-lands-the-chokecherry-sierra-madre-wind-project/

        Mines and wells are nowhere near as visible to the general traveler. Let me also remind you that wind turbines can't exist without fossil fuel inputs during all phases. Their greenness is an illusion even if you pretend you can't see them much.

        The future SCALE of wind energy is set to multiply 10 TIMES if certain zealots get their way. You could spend just 5 minutes looking at these photos and debunk your own claims, but the pro-wind crowd is as thickheaded as global-warming deniers.

        *I'm not "pro coal" just because I'm comparing visual blight.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          YES, IT IS ABOUT OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER !!!!

          And the fact that FP (our resident racist and white supremacist pig) can’t seem to recognize that just proves RWG’s point. As does FP’s mention of John Muir, who has been dead for over ONE HUNDRED YEARS!

          WTF does Muir have to do with our present situation? Thing were far different during his lifetime.


          • Does this mean dumboldguy is woke? Lots of woke folk are into trashing cities, so why not ruin the countryside as well? Wind power is a form of kinetic graffiti to many people. I’m against black criminals but that’s a survival trait, not racism.

            Artist Christo could never match Big Wind with temporary hillside vanity. I remember thinking this was pointless as a kid. https://pacificsun.com/christo-artist-of-running-fence-dies-at-age-84/

            Anyhow, if you want to throw around the word white, notice all the energy-supremacists who don’t mind turning nature into an ugly mess of spinning white towers, topped with red lights. You could call them red communists on top of white trash, but that was a joke. Sort of.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            DOG is more than “woke”. I have been involved in environmentalism since before Earth Day and a member of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for decades, contributing $1000’s of $$$ to them over the years.

            You, on the other hand, appear to be a “hobbyist”, with no real connections to anything except your OCD fixation on “views”—-do you belong to any environmental groups? Have you made donations to any?

            All that goes by the board when we consider what a racist white supremacist pig you are, as evidenced by the postings on your website. Have you no shame?


          • “WTF does Muir have to do with our present situation? Thing were far different during his lifetime.”

            What was “far different” during his lifetime? There was still far more intact nature, due to a much lower population. The carbon problem was already underway and warned of by people like Svante Arrhenius in 1896. Get a grip on context, dummy.

            There are footprints other than carbon that still matter. All this talk of OCD really applies to green-growthers who act like no other environmental problems existed before AGW, nor will ever exist. Younger people are easily prone to that thinking, hearing constant climate messages from birth. It’s like their obsession with racism as the only problem facing POC, not crime and bad life choices (another topic).

            Humans have a long history of plundering nature to satiate growing needs, and I’m trying to get this crowd to see that quasi-renewables are no different. Truly renewable energy would only work on a much less crowded planet. I’d be OK with sparse, small wind turbines if quiet to neighbors.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Get a grip on context, dummy” says FP, to which I will reply that he marks himself as an asshole when he tries to make any serious connection between Muir and the present—-AGW as a serious problem was far in the future

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Fossil fuels don’t SCALE (learn the word)…unless you don’t count the enormous amount of harm that their extraction and combustion has done, plus the overburdening of the carbon cycle and adding greenhouse gasses.

          Also, there’s still the problem of you using views from an “unnatural” height, or for places few people go. Have some trees along the verge to block the view, as clear-cutting timber companies have done for generations. And you still have explained why “most visible” is more important than “most toxic” or “most water-intensive” or “most smelly” when evaluating energy sources.

          And for any one of those wind or solar farm images, I can give you a dozen images of the damage done by what they’re replacing: Readings of combustion pollution, children using inhalers for their asthma, volunteers cleaning the oil off of the few birds and turtles they could save, wars fought over oil field territory. That doesn’t even touch the coral bleaching, accelerated extinction, more intense fires and record-smashing rain events that AGW by itself has brought.

        • redskylite Says:

          Unfortunately mankind requires energy and electricity and lots of it, personally I do not get offended by wind turbines, especially as they are getting larger with fewer being needed. I certainly prefer seeing the sights you highlight in your pasted photographs, than the ugly sprawl of onshore oil wells, refineries and storage, with the risk of spillage and pollution. Open coal mines and table top coal mining are no picture post card either. With underground mines comes the risk of methane explosion and black lung, how many deaths have occurred in coal mines ?

          https://earthjustice.org/features/campaigns/what-is-mountaintop-removal-mining


      • “Can you not afford to move to places where there won’t ever be wind turbines on the ridges?”

        Are you playing some snotty wealth card there? Usually you people claim that wind power opponents are elitist rich people, e.g. Cape Wind, but they’re typically rural folk who hadn’t planned their lives to be invaded by towering machinery. If you gave half a crap about aesthetics we wouldn’t be debating this.

        Ontario, Canada did a good job of shutting down the wind power invasion after too many farmers complained. Same reason Poland will now remove all onshore wind turbines by 2036.

        For benefit of the doubt, you may not understand how many of these eyesores already exist. It’s close to 70,000 in the U.S. alone, probably pushing 400,000 globally, now. Mark Jacobson wants 3.8 MILLION of them. You can’t just look around today and call it a done deal.

        https://eerscmap.usgs.gov/uswtdb/

        https://www.statista.com/statistics/268363/installed-wind-power-capacity-worldwide/

        The global affected viewshed is well into millions of acres, which is not the case with low-lying energy production. People are visual and scenery matters. Animals have a right to fly unimpeded in the countryside (bird & bat species not normally killed in cities).

        It doesn’t matter how much evidence I present because wind power drones are technophiles, not environmentalists.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Our resident OCD racist and white supremacist pig FP again gives evidence of his OCD by trying to say that all his BS is “evidence” of anything other than a dislike of the visual aspects of RE. Nope—-he has NO arguments other than that to present, and has a lot of nerve to say that he is an “environmentalist” and anyone who doesn’t agree with him is a “drone” (whatever that means).

          “It doesn’t matter how much evidence I present because wind power drones are technophiles, not environmentalists”.

          I will again say that FP should do us a favor and avoid further ridicule by finding some other site to hang out on.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Funny, I associate people who have the time and resources to go out and enjoy the scenery with having money. As for “rural folk”, their views typically include barbed-wire fences, water well-heads, rusted propane tanks, rutted roads, the extra trailer(s) behind the house for extended family, irrigation wheels, weeds growing up around dead farm equipment. Plenty of farmers and rural counties are prospering from wind turbine leases and millages.

          The opposition to solar farms or box batteries is the weakest tea: Put up a damn hedge. They don’t drain the aquifer and no fertilizer or pesticides coming off of them.

        • redskylite Says:

          “It doesn’t matter how much evidence I present because wind power drones are technophiles, not environmentalists.”

          That’s ridiculous – do you know how much technology goes into maintaining a large oilfield, hoe many supercomputers are used by the Geologists and paleontologists, water injection technology for maintaining flow, seismic technology, the list goes on, the same for coal, and nuclear. Wind is fairly simple compared to fossil fuel hunting.

          Technology is abundant in nearly all aspects of life these days – tracking Covid-19 (how many people are using QR scanning on mobile phones these days).

          You don’t need to be an environmentalist or a technophile either to understand we need to ditch fossil fuel burning for god sakes.

          We have to employ alternatives.


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