Argo Dam Removal: Why the controversy?
Argo Dam is the scene of a long standing Ann Arbor controversy. Dam in, or dam out?
On one side are a group of people who use the Argo impoundment for rowing, those who appreciate the walking path around the pond, and those who see a historical significance in the dam and pond. This group of people want to maintain status quo by leaving the dam in place.
On the other side are a variety of environmental groups (including HRWC), paddling, rowing, and fishing groups. These groups would like to see Argo Dam removed to achieve cleaner, healthier water, more stable water flows, better habitat for fish and wildlife, and natural control of invasive species. See the HRWC Argo Dam science brief for more details. Several letters to the editor were written to the Ann Arbor News to present the HRWC perspective about removing Argo Dam. You can see them here.
The Argo Dam Timeline
1. 1830. The dam on the site was built to power grain mills, forming the 92-acre Argo Pond.
2. 1914. Detroit Edison (DTE) purchased the dam, and reconstructed the structure and millrace.
2. 1959. DTE ceases to generate power from the dam.
3. 1963.The City of Ann Arbor purchases the dam from DTE.
4. 1971. The City reconstructs the dam (along with Barton, Geddes, and Superior dams).
5. 2001. During a normal three-year inspection, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rates Argo Dam in “poor condition” due to the seepage of water through the earthern embankment and due to extensive trees and shrubs growing on the embankment. Essentially, there was a risk that the embankment could liquify and washout, causing a major flood downstream. The dam structure itself is determined to be in fine shape.
6. 2004 and 2007. Additional DEQ inspections on the normal 3-year basis reveal that the embankment condition had worsened and the that City had not addressed the problems first raised in 2001.
7. 2007-2009. The possibility of dam removal is heatedly debated among the various Argo Pond and Huron River stakeholders. The City of Ann Arbor weighs options and listens to opinions but does not take action.
8. 2009. The DEQ issues a safety order to the City of Ann Arbor- basically, “fix it or remove it” in regards to the dam’s embankment and toe drains.
9. 2011-2012. The City partially clears the embankment and builds a series of plunge pools in the mill race to directly connect Argo Pond to the Huron River downstream of the dam. As a result, the problem of water pressure on the toe drains is alleviated. The dam is not removed and Argo Pond is not affected.
10. Moving into the future. The immediate fate of Argo Dam has been decided, which is that the dam will stay in place. However, next time that the DEQ determines the dam needs expensive repairs, the issue of dam in vs. dam out will surely raise its head again in the community.
Two Argo Dam myths
1. The rowers won’t have anywhere else to go if Argo Dam is removed!
It is true that the rowers would not be able to stay on Argo Pond if the dam was removed, but there are other locations where they can row. HRWC believes this can be done. The Skyline High School Rowing Team has moved to Geddes Pond at Concordia College. It’s vital to point out that at every step in the process of evaluating Ann Arbor’s dams, everyone, HRWC included, has publicly stated that Argo should only come out if it will not mean the end of rowing in the city. Read more about rowing alternatives and why we believe that the possibility of moving rowing to other ponds is worth exploring.
2. Argo Dam can be used to generate hydroelectric power.
Renewing hydroelectric power at dams that previously produced power is being considered by cash-strapped Michigan communities looking to harness renewable sources of energy and encourage local investment. Watershed communities, such as the City of Ann Arbor, have conducted cost-benefit analyses to determine the fiscal viability of hydropower renewal that have produced findings in line with what other Michigan communities have found: renewing hydroelectric power on low-head dams is not a sound investment.
The results of the City’s analysis of renewing hydropower at Argo Dam show that while the potential exists for hydroelectric generation on the Huron River, the cost to license, repair, upgrade, and maintain the existing dam in order to comply with state and federal rules and regulations outweighs the potential revenue from selling electricity generated at the dam. The estimated cost of restoring hydroelectric power generating capacity is $4.35 million, which includes indirect costs such as engineering, licensing/permits, finance, legal and contingencies. The estimated annual revenue from selling electricity is $200,000 (2 million kwh/yr @ $0.10 kwh) for a payback period of 49 years. source: City of Ann Arbor