River improvement plan back on track

Source: Monroe News

Did the Waterloo Dam canal project just dodge a bullet?
A years-long plan to bring better fishing, canoeing and kayaking to the River Raisin seemed to be in jeopardy just as it was gaining steam. The improved recreational opportunities depended substantially on building a channel to divert water around the Waterloo Dam at Veterans Park on N. Custer Rd.
The idea was to entice more fish from Lake Erie into the river while also making it possible to canoe the 23 miles between Dundee and Lake Erie. Work already has been done on some of the other dams in the river.
Enter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which heard about the project from a fishing blog.
The 11th-hour concern: Proposed changes also might invite the dreaded sea lamprey to move up the river, spawn and multiply.
It isn’t a frivolous concern. The lamprey is deadly, preying on all species of Great Lakes fish, including our prized walleye. They attach themselves to fish and suck out fluids until the host is destroyed.
Dale Burkett, director of the sea lamprey control project for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, explained recently that about $20 million is spent on the lakes each year to keep the lamprey under control. But new projects such as the Waterloo channel can threaten a delicate balance.
Thankfully the City of Monroe heard last week that the work can continue if some modifications are made. Dan Stefanski, a member of the city’s Committee on the Environment, will propose a closeable gate that could be shut if lamprey seemed to be on the way.
The next step will be to get final approval of that contingency so that the work can be completed and the public can start enjoying the results of years of dreams, plans and finding funding.
When completed, it will mean small watercraft can get through downtown Monroe’s portion of the river and out to the lake for the first time in 70 years.
It means another enhancement that supports other relatively recent changes: a multi-million-dollar effort to remove toxic sediment from the river, a riverwalk that spans long stretches along the south side, park and riverfront development, and the creation and growth of the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge.
Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, was in Monroe recently to check up on grant-funded environmental projects. He was pleased and impressed with the thoughtful approach to the local initiatives, bringing environmental improvements, recreation potential and the public together.
Like those who plant trees, the believers who have envisioned the River Raisin as it could be are people who mark the future by years and even decades, not in months or a few seasons.
The river, marshes, wildlife and lake are priceless natural resources that have been neglected and abused too often in the past. They cannot be returned to pristine condition, but they can be improved, appreciated and protected from here on.
The individuals and agencies involved deserve the thanks of the entire community for bringing the pieces together to start realizing results. It is exhilarating to think about the future and the exciting advancements still to come.