Why are we in this situation?
The 80-year-old Estabrook Dam is currently non-functional (the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered the gates to be opened, and remain open, in 2008 for public safety). The damdegrades the health of the Milwaukee River, impedes fish movement, elevates flood risk for homeowners who live upstream of the dam, and poses a risk to public safety. The Milwaukee County Board has ignored recommendations by the experts to remove the dam, including Milwaukee County Parks staff, Milwaukee County’s Director of the Office of Emergency Management, and a County-hired engineering firm who studied dam alternatives and analyzed the state of the dam. The Milwaukee County Board has also ignored widespread public support for dam removal (more than 1,700 people have signed a petition asking for dam removal), as well as resolutions in support of dam removal from the City of Milwaukee, the Village of Shorewood and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
Why should we remove the Estabrook Dam?
Dam Removal Saves Milwaukee County Taxpayers Money
Dam repair will cost Milwaukee County taxpayers, at least, $6 million over the next 20 years. These estimates include annual operation and maintenance costs (estimated at $160,000 per year) and construction and maintenance of a proposed fish passage facility, but not sediment dredging costs, which the county’s own consultant estimates to cost millions of dollars. In 20 years or less, we will reach the life expectancy of the dam and we will need to spend millions more to remove the structure. Removing the Estabrook Dam is a one-time $1.7 million cost for Milwaukee County taxpayers that will maximize fisheries and other environmental benefits.
Dam Removal Improves the Health of the Milwaukee River
The dam acts as a barrier to many fish species, such as northern pike, that migrate upstream to reach higher quality areas for spawning. Reaching these areas is imperative to sustaining fish populations. Putting in a fish passage will allow fish to pass beyond the dam only if it is well designed and maintained. A significant environmental problem with the dam that is not being addressed by the repair option is the huge amount of sediment that will accumulate in the impoundment upstream of the dam. Sediment accumulation degrades water quality by affecting the water clarity, oxygen levels and temperature, which then combine to create an ideal habitat for nuisance algae. Sediment accumulation also fills in and degrades streambed habitats that are essential for survival and reproduction of many fish species, freshwater mussels, and other aquatic life. The impoundment becomes dominated by less desirable fish species such as carp, which flourish in the degraded habitat conditions. When sediment behind the dam is released downstream all at once, the accumulated sediment (often bound to other contaminants and pollutants) can degrade downstream habitat and water quality. Removing the Estabrook Dam will maximize benefits to water quality and fish and aquatic life populations while providing the best and cheapest option for fish passage.
Dam Removal Decreases Flooding Upstream
The Estabrook Dam increases flood risk for upstream property owners. Removing the dam would decrease water elevation in the 100-year floodplain by up to 6-inches with most properties seeing a decrease of 3 inches. If repaired, Milwaukee County and its taxpayers, are liable for the resulting increased flood risk if the gates cannot be opened during a large storm event, which the County has frequently been unable to do in the past. If all dam gates are not opened in a 100-year event, water levels will increase by 1.5 feet at the dam to around 5-inches near Bender Road. Dam repair increases flood risk for over 350 families. Removing the Estabrook Dam is the only alternative that reduces flood risk.
Dam Removal Reduces Risk to Public Safety
If the Estabrook Dam fails, it could pose catastrophic harm to property and people both upstream and downstream. For recreational users, the dam can create torrential currents that have the power to seriously injure or kill during large storm events, when historically dam gates have been suddenly opened. Milwaukee County’s Director of the Office of Emergency Management and the City of Glendale’s Certified Flood Manager have both recommended dam removal as the only way to reduce flood and safety risk for residents of all alternatives under consideration. Removing Estabrook Dam is the best option for Milwaukee County taxpayers, for upstream homeowners in the floodplain, and for the health of the Milwaukee River.