Fish passage being proposed for Lower Red Lake outlet

Construction of a fish passage from a Lower Red Lake outlet is being proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The proposed passage is at the Army Corps' dam at the southwest side of the lake, in Clearwater County, but on the Red Lake Reserva...

Construction of a fish passage from a Lower Red Lake outlet is being proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The proposed passage is at the Army Corps' dam at the southwest side of the lake, in Clearwater County, but on the Red Lake Reservation, the federal agency said Thursday in a statement.

Public comment on the proposal will be taken from April 12 to May 17 through the Corps' St. Paul District, with construction costs estimated at $800,000.

The passage is designed to allow spawning walleye to re-enter the lake while also providing a trap to prohibit carp from entering Lower Red Lake.

In 1951, the Corps of Engineers modified the Red Lake Dam and assumed its operation under conditions set by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in tribal resolutions, the Corps said. Since then, the band has expressed concerns over the congregation of fish below the dam and their inability to re-enter Red Lake.


"The Corps attempted to alleviate this problem by installing a temporary fishway in the 1950s and by reducing the ability of fish to swim out of the lake through the dam by placing stoplogs in front of the dam gates," it said. "However, early fishway technologies were ineffective, and reducing the downstream fish passage through a dam is difficult at best."

The proposed fishway would be a natural channel design that has recently proven successful in Minnesota and other locations around the world, the Corps said. A concrete fish trap would be included in the design to prevent common carp from entering the lake by allowing selective transport of desirable species.

The fish trap would also aid in the capture of walleye for egg stripping in the spring for rearing in a fish hatchery operated by the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources, the Corps said.

At the request of the Red Lake Band, the fishway is being proposed ahead of another Corps project for that area -- the restoration of the nearby Zah Gheeng Marsh and associated wetlands located along about 10 miles of the Red Lake River immediately below Lower Red Lake.

When the dam was built, the Corps also channelized 3.2 miles of the Red Lake River through the marsh, primarily to provide agricultural flood protection, according to a project description on the St. Paul District's Web site. The channelization effectively de-watered the marsh even though a rock and brush weir had been constructed 10 miles downstream of the dam to prevent it.

A concrete sill constructed in 1958 to replace the rock and brush didn't solve the problem, and in 1967 the Corps constructed dikes and water control structures to restore wetlands along the channelized reach.

Some 3,300 acres of wetland were reflooded, the Corps said, however the operation of the inlet and outlet structures on the marsh haven't produced the desired ecological outcome.

The Corps now is studying data collected since staff gages were placed in the marsh in 1999 to document hydrological conditions, and future solutions may include improved operation of the control structures, control structure modification, dike removal, channel remeandering, or a combination of the options, it said.


"The Red Lake Band is also concerned with the potential impacts on fish, mainly walleyes, leaving Red Lake through the dam gates and being unable to re-enter the lake," the Corps said. "The effects of the dam on walleye populations, as perceived by the band, are significant, and the band has advocated a fish passage structure ever since the dam was constructed."

As a result, "the band has stated that the resolution of the fish-loss issue is a priority over the restoration of the Zah Gheeng marsh," it said. "Therefore, work is proceeding to design a fishway that would meet the needs of the band."

This spring is also a key date, as the Lower Red Lake will be open to walleye harvest by band members after a 10-year moratorium on walleye harvesting in order to rebuild the depleted natural stock of the fish.

An environmental assessment and federal Section 404(b)(1) evaluation on the fish passage have been completed and will be available for public comment through the St. Paul District or at its Web site, . As of Thursday night, the documents had not yet been posted on the Web.

More information is available from the Corps' manager and environmental specialist for the project, Steve Clark, at (651) 290-5278, or John O'Leary, the Headwaters Operations manager, at (218) 327-4027.

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