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Fish Lake Dam at Dunvilla will be converted to rock rapids

A youngster checks out the current Fish Lake Dam near Dunvilla. The aging dam will be replaced with a rock rapids this summer. Submitted photo.1 / 2
This map of the Pelican River Watershed shows the location of the Fish Lake Dam.2 / 2

Thanks to a $305,000 grant, the Fish Lake Dam, located near Dunvilla on the Pelican River, will be removed this summer and converted into a rock arch rapids, similar to the one at Dunton Locks County Park.

The Fish Lake Dam, built in 1932 to maintain consistent water levels in Pelican Lake, has a long and storied history, including numerous partial washouts and patches, which caused drops in lake water levels of Pelican Lake and have left the dam in deteriorating shape.

An additional problem created by this dam, and many dams in general, is that they are barriers that make it hard for river species to travel both up and downstream. But replacing dams with rock rapids made it possible for fish, muskrats, otters, shorebirds, waterfowl, salamanders, frogs, crayfish and other invertebrate species to move around as nature intended.

The Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District (PGOLID), a taxing entity of lake property owners on Pelican, Little Pelican, Bass and Fish Lakes, has been working with the DNR on ideas for a more permanent fix to the dam to improve its structure, safety, and habitat for fish and wildlife.

As part of the Red River of the North Fisheries Management Plan, the DNR aims to, wherever feasible, remove barriers to restore uninterrupted fish migration pathways.

The plan is to modify the dam into a rock arch rapids fishway, a design that mimics shallow natural waterfalls in rivers that can be traversed by fish moving up and downstream from the falls. A similar structure already exists at Dunton Locks County Park near Detroit Lakes and another was just completed this past summer in Barnesville on Whisky Creek at the Blue Eagle Lake Park.

This design would provide a long-term fix to the 84-year- old dam, which will (a) improve the functionality of the dam, (b) provide easier dispersal for river species up and downstream, and (c) provide spawning substrate for lake sturgeon.

Even though this project covers less than one acre of land, it will benefit the 14,790 acres of lakes and 84 river miles in the entire Pelican River Watershed by restoring connections.

This fall, PGOLID submitted a Conservation Partners Legacy Grant to the DNR for funding to complete this project. As part of the grant application, PGOLID obtained project funding partners including the Pelican Lake Property Owners Association, Fargo-Moorhead Muskies Inc., the Red River Area Sportsmen's Club, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In past grant cycles, the probability of receiving the grant has been around 50 percent..

Recently PGOLID was pleased to find out that they were awarded a grant in the amount of $305,255 to complete this project.

PGOLID will be working with the DNR and Houston Engineering on the project next year. The current dam will not be removed, but will be modified. This new fishway will be built to hold water levels exactly as the current dam does, so that homeowners don't notice a difference.

To ensure the new fishway functions the same as the current dam, water level monitoring in the stream and lake has already been occurring to establish baseline conditions and will also occur after the project. Construction is expected to start in late summer or fall of 2017 with completion of the new fishway done by early 2018.

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