Anoka calling for upgrades to Rum River Dam

Anoka’s Rum River Dam is the last hurdle Asian carp would have to cross on an upstream swim to Lake Mille Lacs.

Anoka Rum River DamAnd if carp infested these waters, it would be devastating to the state’s $4 billion fishery.

So the city of Anoka is driving an effort to upgrade the Rum River Dam to become a barrier to the four species of Asian carp threatening the Mississippi River and its adjoining waterways.

Plans are in place to seek funding from Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Minnesota Office of Management Budget to study the feasibility of upgrading the dam as a redundant barrier to invasive species, according to Anoka City Manager Tim Cruikshank.

Anoka hopes for the grant application to be initiated by the Lower Rum River Watershed Management Organization, of which Anoka is a member – along with the cities of Ramsey, Andover and Coon Rapids. This joint powers group includes board members from all four cities. The organization was expected to vote on going forward with the application at its board meeting Thursday morning. The cost of the grant applications is $10,000.

“After we get the study completed assuming it says we says what we will think it will say… we would move forward with an effort at the legislature, probably in 2015, for funding for upgrading the dam for that purpose,” Cruikshank said.

Protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat and water recreational facilities is included on the list of goals and policies for the watershed management organization.

The most recent watershed management plan, adopted in January 2012, calls for the organization to work with the member cities on the maintenance and control of the Rum River Dam, said Councilmember Jeff Weaver, an alternate board member to the organization.

“We are the last line in defense of the big jewel just 150 miles north of us… that’s Mille Lacs Lake,” said Weaver.

The current Rum River Dam is not an effective barrier because the gate that manages the water flow opens from the bottom.

Also, there are times of year when the difference between the water levels above and below the dam are not great enough to prevent the carp from jumping upstream.

The first timber dam on the Rum River was built in 1853 to provide power for a sawmill and was purchased 1935 by the city from the Pillsbury Milling Company. The structure that exists today was built in 1969 following three decades of extensive repairs.

According to a 2011 funding request, to upgrade the dam as an invasive barrier would cost more than $4 million. Those upgrades would allow for better control of water levels and would include a top loading gate.

This is on the heels of a $17 million state-funded project now underway to upgrade the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River as a barrier to invasive species.

Jamie Schurbon, a water resource specialist with the Anoka Conservation District, sees the value in creating another barrier just a few miles upstream of the Coon Rapids Dam.

“The Anoka dam is the last spot for a feasible barrier to keep the Asian carp from entering the Rum River watershed, which includes Lake Mille Lacs,” Schurbon said.

He explained that there are four species of Asian carp moving up the Mississippi River system and they have wreaked havoc, especially in Illinois.

The Anoka dam, along with the Coon Rapids Dam, are two of a just a few critical spots to stop these Asian carp, said Schurbon.

“If Asian carp did get into the system there would be a tremendous impact on the sport fishery,” Schurbon said.

Schurbon is lending the conservation district’s support to the efforts, using his contacts to both organize and generate enthusiasm for the proposal. He is also working on projects to both improve and protect water quality in the Rum River watershed.

The Rum River watershed is 997,000 acres and includes Mille Lacs Lake, the second largest lake in Minnesota with a surface area of 207 square miles. The watershed also includes 1,780 river miles and approximately 212 lakes.

Schurbon said of the 10 counties in the Rum River Watershed, which also includes the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, five county soil and water conservation districts have endorsed a letter of support for modifying the Anoka dam to serve as an Asian carp barrier.

To date none of those entities have been asked to support the project financially.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]