Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t this just a whitewater park or a kayak course?

No. That is a misconception. This is a restoration project. Returning the historic rapids and restoring river connectivity would provide sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits. Several years ago we looked at the project as a way to kayak and canoe the river in the summer when no one was using the river. However, through public input and discovery from sonar and sediment sampling, important opportunities have presented themselves. The project has moved up river toward the recently discovered head of the original rapids just south of Ann St. Kayaking and canoeing will be one recreational component of many that will enhance the river’s image and contribute to the exciting new downtown vibe.

If it’s not a whitewater park, will there be kayaking and canoeing opportunities?

Yes! Even though this is a restoration and not a whitewater park project per se, there will still be features built in for play. However, they may appear to be so natural that you won’t know if they were designed for paddling or for holding fish. There will be new, safer river recreation opportunities, and we anticipate the new sport of Stand Up Paddling (SUP) to become quite popular, as well. This project has the potential to do for outdoor urban recreation what the Calder did for art in our community.

What about sturgeon? They already inhabit the river here, why do you need to ‘restore’?

Sturgeon date back 135 million years. They can live over 100 years and can reach 6 feet in length. It’s good news that there is still a small population of threatened sturgeon in the Grand. However, currently they lack ideal habitat and are blocked by dams from reaching a geologically unique, expansive (historic spawning) reef of exposed bedrock found between the 6th St dam and Ann St. Male sturgeon emit a low MHz ‘song’ when an ovulating female is found, attracting other males to the area. The hard bedrock allows the sound waves to travel great distances. A sturgeon restoration project completed in Wisconsin successfully attracted spawning sturgeon within two years. Sturgeon are culturally significant to Native Americans, they are as important as the eagle and are an indicator of the river’s health. The more we learn, the more sturgeon are becoming the most interesting focus of this project.

Why remove the dams?

Removing dams restores river connectivity and sediment transport. Rivers are like arteries and need to be open to remain healthy. Fish and invertebrates will be allowed to travel freely. Dams are also inherently dangerous. Many people have been caught in the 6th St and Bridge St dams and have either been injured or lost their lives due to the strong hydraulics.

Would the 6th St Dam be removed?

Only partially. It could be lowered by 30%, encased in boulders to create a scenic waterfall, with a portion of the East side removed to provide improved passage for fish and invertebrates.

Why lower the dam, why not just remove it?

There are many other river users and functions to consider, so the proposed design is a compromise, considering everyone and maximizing benefits. It is important to maintain water levels upstream for home owners, those that recreate on the river and to maximize habitat values.

Will the Fish Ladder be removed? Will it still be functional?

It would not be removed. It would still remain functional and some fish would continue to make their way up.

Aren’t the dams used for flood control?

That is a common myth. No, they actually contribute to the flooding problem.

Can’t you just remove the dams? Why do you need to add boulders and gravel?

Over the last 160 years, dredging of rock and boulders to clear the waterway for transportation of boats and timber for the furniture industry was performed. Much of the material was used as fill for construction along the river. Rivers are complicated. Restoring boulders, rock and gravel would contribute to the aquatic diversity the Grand River once experienced. Pocket water, eddies, seams, fast water, slow water all contribute to the oxygenation and overall health of a river and provide healthy structure and habitat for fish and wildlife.

Will this project allow invasive species like lamprey upstream?

Lamprey are the biggest constraint for the project, our goal is to design and build a superior lamprey barrier upstream at the head of the historic rapids. The current lamprey barrier is the 6th St dam and is considered by the DNR and USF&W Service to be incomplete, allowing lamprey up in limited numbers, enough that the Rogue River needed to be treated with chemicals most recently in 2009. This project will require permits to proceed and neither the DNR nor the USF&WS will issue these permissions without demonstrating how the project will control invasive species.

How can you say you are restoring river connectivity when you are talking about another barrier upstream?

The rapids are regionally rare and two thirds of them are upstream of 6th Street Dam. Our hope is to open up the historic waters known to the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians as Gitchi Bawating, the Great Rapids. Think of it as moving the functions of 6th Street dam upriver, exposing the geology of the original whitewater. Returning the rapids will do good things for the river’s health and biodiversity. Our biggest constraint, though, is the invasive sea lamprey. We need to stop them before they move upstream. Lamprey spawn in the spring. During those months, the lamprey barrier would act similar to 6th Street dam, preventing them from reaching small spawning tributaries upriver. During other months, the barrier could remain open, allowing connectivity. The design is conceptual and has not yet been engineered or approved. We are still in a study period.

How will rowing be affected upstream and down stream?

Just as property owners will not be negatively affected, so the rowers will also enjoy predictable water levels. As a matter of fact, GRWW is working with rowing clubs to design a system that will ensure adequate water depths during low-flow years so that national events can be confidently scheduled. The barrier, described above, would be adjustable and could be inflated to raise water levels. No change in flows or velocity would be experienced by rowers downstream.

What about the deep deposits of toxic industrial sediment upstream of the big dam?

In 2011, GRWW received an EPA grant through the Grand Valley Metro Council to have the sediment sampled and analyzed. Engineers had difficulty finding rumored sediment, and that which was found was tested and pollutants were determined to be statistically insignificant, and quite clean.

How will property owners be affected?

No property owner will be negatively affected by the project. The new barrier proposed for upstream would be designed to control water levels. This project will not ‘drain the pond.’

Can’t we just leave the dams and let Mother Nature decide.

No dam lasts forever. The 6th St dam is 160 years old and was worked on last, over 90 years ago. The DNR informs us it is expected to last only another 10-20 years. We have a unique opportunity to be proactive – now.

Who maintains the restored area and any mechanicals after the project is completed? Who will pay?

A substantial endowment is set aside in the budget to ensure that the project will remain sustainable. The question of who will maintain the project area is still being discussed. Some strong ideas and opportunities are being considered.

Aren’t rapids dangerous?

Whitewater recreation is statistically more safe than skiing, mountain biking, roller blading or many other outdoor sports. The rapids would be far safer than the lowhead dam ‘drowning machines’ in place now.

Does anybody care what the fishermen think?

Yes! Fishing is part of GR’s ‘cool factor.’ We understand and appreciate that some fishermen have concerns about the project and we look forward to addressing those. We have a well renowned fishing expert on our team, Dr. Jim Bedford, formerly with the DNR, he literally wrote the book on fishing the Grand River. We have fishermen on our board of directors and we look forward to continued open communications with Trout Unlimited and the Grand Rapids Steelheaders.

Do all fishermen want the dam to stay?

No. A recent online poll (as of 8-28-12) indicates 68% of outdoorsmen are agreeable to removing the dams if the project has the support of the DNR and USF&WS.

Will fishermen be able to wade the rapids?

Yes. At flows they wade today, they would actually have more and safer areas to wade.

Won’t the fishing be ruined?

Absolutely not. It will be improved. By providing increased habitat and structure, more gravel, diverse hydraulics and varied bottom, the anadromous fish would hold better before moving upriver and local populations of walleye and bass will flourish. Over the last 160 years, tons of boulders have been removed and the river bottom today is flat, lacking rocks of any size. Often the best structure is a dangerous lowhead dam. The river could provide a much higher quality fishing experience, similar to the St. Mary’s River in the Soo.

I’ve read that Grand Rapids is a world class fishery. Is that true?

Two national outdoor magazines have listed GR in the list of top 10 urban fisheries. The current angling opportunities between Fulton and the fish ladder are certainly unique and the proposed project would actually add over 100 additional fishable acres upstream as well as improving the holding water downstream. The completed project would surely make Grand Rapids an even better destination fishery. Think number one.

Has hydroelectric generation been considered?

Yes and the idea has been rejected based on a cost benefit ratio. It has been determined by engineers to be too costly to consider with a payback estimated at 70 years. Recreation actually has a better payback than hydropower.

Who’s paying for this?

We don’t have an answer for that, yet. We are confident, though, that money will come to a good idea. We are working on local, state and federal grants and hoping for continued generosity from the private sector. You can help by donating to Grand Rapids Whitewater!