Xcel Energy will begin a drawdown of the Minnesota River on Wednesday, July 18 in preparation for removal of the Minnesota Falls Dam, located approximately three miles downstream on the Minnesota River.
The drawdown will occur incrementally throughout the remaining summer months until the level of the Minnesota River reaches a point where the dam can be removed by sometime this fall, according to officials from Xcel Energy.
“The main point of the drawdown is to prep for removal of the dam and to get a look at the lower levels,” said Jim Bodensteiner with Xcel Environmental Services. “With the drawdown we will be able to establish access and water control.”
According to public notice posted by Xcel Energy, “The drawdown is expected to lower water surface elevations on the Minnesota River from the Minnesota Falls Dam upstream to the City of Granite Falls Dam. The lowered water levels will result in exposed shoreline. Boat launches may become difficult or impossible to use and portions of the channel may become inaccessible to boats due to exposed rapids.”
Bodensteiner said Xcel is currently establishing contracts for the demolition of the damn. Yet, still an exact timeline for the dam’s removal is unavailable.
Having considered options to repair, or replace the dam with rock rapids that would maintain its current water level, Xcel Energy ultimately decided the removal of the 107 year-old dam would be in the best interest of both the community, in terms of safety, and utility rate payers, in terms of costs.
Local opposition was led by Granite Falls Energy and Granite Run Golf Course immediately following the announcement of the dam’s removal––as both businesses draw water from the upstream pool via methods that would be inhibited by the lowering of the reservoir behind the dam.
Other community fears have involved perceptions that the lower water levels would impact the city aesthetically, particularly at Memorial Park.
In the last quarter of 2011, attempts were made to form a joint powers agreement between the city of Granite Falls and Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties, which may have created a mechanism for mutual ownership of the dam. The agreement dissolved, however, as Chippewa County commissioners decided they were unwilling to even form an exploratory committee based largely on cost concerns that may have burdened taxpayers.
In early 2012, GFE stated that it would lead a private effort exploring ownership options, but those options have been proven ill-advised.
According to Xcel Energy Water Quality Manager, Patrick Flowers, the utility continues to be willing to work with entities interested in ownership, but otherwise is still shooting to remove the dam in late fall or early winter.
Editor Scott Tedrick contributed to this report.