Report: Kinnickinnic River Among Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers

River Falls Plans To Remove Dams To Aid River Restoration

Dam at Junction Falls
The dam at Junction Falls is set to be removed by 2040, but environmental groups want to speed up that timeline. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Kinni

A new report from a river conservation group lists a Wisconsin river as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the nation. The group wants to see the city of River Falls remove two dams in order to restore the Kinnickinnic River.

American Rivers puts out a report each year on rivers it deems are most at-risk based on their national or regional significance and the threats facing them. The Kinnickinnic River made No. 10 on the group’s list because it’s the last major tributary to the St. Croix River and a prime trout fishing stream in the Midwest, said Olivia Dorothy, associate director for the Upper Mississippi River Basin for American Rivers.

“We feel the city of River Falls and FERC — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — need to take action to remove the dams and restore the falls and River Falls, as well as the rest of the stretch,” she said.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the city an extension of its current license for the dams until 2023. In August, the city will provide notice to the commission about whether it plans to pursue or surrender its license. River Falls Mayor Dan Toland said the city council approved a resolution in February that calls for re-licensing and the removal of the lower dam at Powell Falls by 2026.

Junction Falls as it once was in 1865. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Kinni

“What we’re going to kind of do is use that as a learning tool because it’s a smaller dam, a smaller impoundment, and use that as a learning tool to make sure that we go through the whole process and everything works out fine so that when we take the upper dam out, we’ll have learned from the lower dam, I guess,” said Toland. “The upper dam in our resolution … that will be out by 2040 at the latest.”

Friends of the Kinni President Michael Page said he would like to see both dams removed sooner to speed up restoration.

“The value that would come to town through the restoration of this river and through the recreation of a waterfall through town would be tremendous both in recreational opportunities, in aesthetic improvements, and the opportunity of exposing 25 plus acres of dry land right in the middle of town that we can turn into open green space,” said Page.

Page said the hydroelectric dams generate “minimal or meager” amounts of electricity for the River Falls community. Toland said the dams provide enough electricity to power around 300 homes in the city of 15,000.

Two rivers in Minnesota also made the top 10 most endangered rivers list. The Kawishiwi River that separates the north and south branches of the Boundary Waters was No. 3 on the list. The Mississippi River Gorge, which runs from St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis to the Minnesota River confluence in Mendota, was listed as No. 6 on the list.