“In 1826, the National Intelligencer wrote about Grand Rapids in a way no person living today has experienced it.
“These rapids are about a mile in extent and 300 yards wide and must have at least a 10-foot fall, some think 15. They are crowded with huge round rocks, among which the water roars and foams with great fury.”
That vivid description will return someday as Grand Rapids Whitewater continues to make progress on the $45 million plan to unwind the changes European settlers made to Michigan’s longest river when they arrived more than 150 years ago.
The rapids, for which the city was named, will be back as dams are removed and rocks and substrate are returned to the riverbed that was mined for some of the city’s earliest building projects.”
After months of collaboration, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Whitewater are excited to see more federal dollars aimed at stopping invasive sea lamprey in the Grand River.
With the signing of the recent federal spending bill, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) expects to receive a $7 million increase in its annual budget. The increase in funding will allow the Commission to invest needed dollars into crumbling sea-lamprey control infrastructure, devote more resources to science for fishery restoration and provide $1.8 million to help “Restore the Rapids” in Grand Rapids while ensuring sea lamprey protection is a top priority.
A critical component of the Grand River restoration project is the construction of a new sea lamprey barrier one mile upstream of the century-old Sixth Street Dam that currently serves as a barrier to invasive sea lamprey. The new barrier would deny sea lampreys access to more than 1,900 miles of new stream habitat, which could otherwise cost GLFC about $1.2 million annually to treat with lampricides. GLFC and its partners have proposed this new barrier, which is expected to pay for itself in less than a decade.
“We are grateful to our lawmakers in Washington for their commitment to this project and our community,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “This funding is critical as we work to restore the river, which is a part of our long-term vision that will add to the vibrancy of our city.”
“Each sea lamprey will kill up to 40 pounds of Great Lakes fish, which is why control of that destructive invader is essential to the $7 billion fishery,” said Robert Lambe, executive secretary of the Canadian-US Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the agency responsible for sea lamprey control. “We have been proud to partner with the people of Grand Rapids to ensure sea lamprey control on the Grand River continues for decades to come. The Commission particularly thanks Senator Gary Peters for requesting funds for the Grand River lamprey barrier, Congressman Fred Upton, Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Bill Huizenga for all their hard work as Great Lakes Task Force co-chairs. They are true champions for the lakes.”
“Grand Rapids Whitewater is proud of the hard work by our partners from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the City of Grand Rapids to secure these critical funds to support sea lamprey control in the Grand River,” said Richard Bishop President & CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater. “These additional funds will help to leverage other local, state, and private dollars to support the restoration of the Grand River for everyone and ensure protection against invasive species.”
Sea lampreys are a parasitic fish native to the Atlantic Ocean and invaded the Great Lakes in the early 20th century. Sea lamprey control depends on a selective lampricide to kill the larvae or, in large stream systems such as the Grand River and its tributaries, barriers to prevent sea lamprey access to their spawning grounds. The new sea lamprey barrier, or Adjustable Hydraulic Structure (AHS), proposed for the Grand River will be located between Ann and Leonard streets. The location of the barrier was carefully selected at the head of the historic and regionally rare limestone rapids. Removal of the existing Sixth Street Dam will reveal approximately 88 acres of the namesake rapids. Other benefits of the Grand River restoration project include water quality and habitat enhancements, reconnection of spawning habitat for key Great Lakes fish, vastly improved access and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, and enhanced aesthetics and riparian functions that will attract people to a revitalized downtown. The project is being closely coordinated to align with other ongoing citywide planning efforts such as Green Grand Rapids, GR Forward and the City’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan.
Project partners continue to work through the complex environmental permitting process and are eager to begin work in the river as soon as possible. Once authorized to begin, construction would last four to five seasons. The first phase of work would include removing four low-head beautification dams and constructing other aquatic habitat improvements downstream of the Sixth Street Dam.
About Great Lakes Fishery Commission: The 1954 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, which created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, was born from a strong need to work together across borders not only to combat sea lampreys but also to promote science and establish working relationships among the players. The commission consists of four Canadian commissioners appointed by the Privy Council and four U.S. commissioners (plus one alternate) appointed by the President. The commissioners are supported by a secretariat, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Grand Rapids Whitewater has released findings of the Economic Benefits of the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project, a study focused on the potential for expanded economic activity directly related to the restoration of a 2.2-mile stretch of the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our city was given its name for a reason, because once, long ago, we actually had natural, free flowing whitewater rapids. There is now an important opportunity before us to restore these namesake rapids to the Grand River for everyone to appreciate and enjoy as the deserved focus of our city.
In 2009, the City of Grand Rapids invited the community to participate in a unique process updating the master plan. This new, innovative approach was named Green Grand Rapids. Citizen participation in Green Grand Rapids was designed to inform policy makers, city staff, nonprofits and various interest groups about those things that are important to citizens. Public input has successfully guided how we can use our infrastructure and what the green priorities should be. This was a ‘grass roots effort’ and from it, Grand Rapids Whitewater emerged as a 501c3 non profit to act as champions for the restoration of our most important natural asset. Overwhelming community support moved the idea to the forefront and in 2012, after a lengthy public process, the city commission adopted the Green Grand Rapids master plan update into the City Master Plan as an amendment. We have before us now, an opportunity to make positive, sustainable social, economic and environmental change.
“We will succeed in making our most important natural feature – the Grand River, increasingly visible and usable by converting older riverfront industrial sites to parks and new development that welcome people to the river’s edge. We will recreate the rapids in the river as a reminder of our heritage.”
– Green Grand Rapids (2012)
As we explore the potential of this proposed legacy project, the community and GRWW seek to remove or modify the dams*, and enhance the channel bed and banks, and to restore the ecological, cultural and recreational functions of the historic rapids. Diversification is the major theme of the Grand Rapids Restoration plan. Diversification of the currents, habitats and recreation use can be achieved through enhancements to the channel bed. The diversified channel will spread out the use, as well as maximize the economic benefits of fishing, whitewater, and aesthetics. Diversification is also the key to stream health as the life cycles of species that evolved with the river can be maximized in a complex and diverse environment.
Install water quality and habitat enhancements
Connect historic sturgeon spawning habitat
Improve access and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors
Enhance natural aesthetics and riparian function of the riverfront
Attract tourism, business and employment opportunities
Create access to natural areas for under represented community members
Invigorate the cultural significance of the rapids
Implement a plan a comprehensive plan for watershed and green infrastructure issues
Generate a stewardship ethic for the river through education and outreach
As we continue to consult with scientists, watershed experts, engineers and governmental agencies, much is yet to be done.
Continued public process, community/public involvement assessment
Additional survey and review of flood impact model
Fresh water mussel survey
Baseline condition (P-51 macroinvertebrates, geomorphology) to evaluate impacts of project (biological assessment)
Finish HEC-RAS modeling
Detailed hydraulic designs of sea lamprey barrier and USFWS review and comment
Economic Impact Study
Hydraulic Ice Analysis
Climate Change impacts
Water Quality Monitoring
Documentation for permit applications
Baseline Monitoring Surveys
substrate (pebble counts, geomorphology survey)
Significant restoration of the Grand River in Grand Rapids is achievable. Restoration is expected to have valuable social and economic benefits for the entire community. Further studies will show how the proposed project conforms to major constraints including flood conveyance and sea lamprey control. Restoration of lake sturgeon and fresh water mussel habitats are regionally rare opportunities. Based on concepts, the Grand Rapids Restoration has broad support from the managers and regulators of the river. Compelling community support is being voiced and gaining sustained momentum. A community legacy can be established in restoring the regionally rare functions of the Grand Rapids.
* A new barrier is being studied for implementation upstream as a first line of defense against invasive species and flood conveyance.
“There’s one challenge about putting the rapids back into Grand Rapids, and that’s making sure that sea lampreys don’t continue up the Grand River. So they’ll go through a series of boulders and structures, and they’ll still have a lamprey control structure throughout the project. But it should increase the fisheries,” said Creagh.