MDEQ to Ann Arbor: Close Argo Millrace

Deadline for closure and dewatering is Nov. 1
Likely point of closure for the headrace (millrace) at Argo Dam.

Likely point of closure for the millrace (also known as the headrace or canal) at Argo Dam. (Photo by the writer.)

As part of an intro to an interview with the chair of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, Scott Rosencrans, which The Chronicle published on Aug. 25, we reported that a letter from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had been sent to the city of Ann Arbor. The MDEQ letter included an order to close the millrace at Argo Dam.

The communication from the state agency didn’t come out of the blue – it was a reply to a request sent to MDEQ by the city of Ann Arbor asking for an extension to a July 31, 2009 deadline for action on Argo Dam.

With the text of both letters now available, we take a look at those communications, after briefly considering some historical context. That context dates back to a 2004 letter from the MDEQ about toe drains in the earthen berm next to the dam, and includes formation of a study committee, a public engagement process that extended over most of the first half of this year, recommendations from the city’s Park Advisory Commission and Environmental Commission, and a city council work session.

A key date from the most recent MDEQ letter is Nov. 1, 2009, by which time it has ordered the city of Ann Arbor to close off and drain the millrace. But it leaves both the dam-in and dam-out options available to the city. On a dam-in scenario, the MDEQ wants the toe drains in the earthen berm repaired by Dec. 31, 2010. On a dam-out scenario, the MDEQ wants the removal completed by December 2012. Either way, the city is supposed to have its study of options completed by April 30, 2010.

Based on a Tuesday phone conversation with Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, one possible timeline for next steps would have the city council conducting a mid-September work session on the topic, with clear direction coming at the council’s second meeting in September. Whatever that direction from council is, said Naud, it’s going to start costing money to implement the next steps – on the order of five-figure dollar amounts at least.


The following timeline is not meant to be exhaustive, but does convey at least that the issue with the toe drains in the earthen berm (headrace embankment) adjacent to Argo Dam has been of concern to the MDEQ for a long time and that the city of Ann Arbor’s response has unfolded in the form of a task force, public engagement, and consideration by city commissions and the city council.

The two basic scenarios under consideration are these: (i) Dam-out – find an alternative venue for the rowers who use Argo Pond and remove Argo Dam, or (ii) Dam-in – repair the toe drains in the earthen berm adjacent to the dam and develop a program for maintenance of Argo Pond.

  • 2001 Inspection report from MDEQ notes problem with toe drains in earthen embankment.
  • Nov. 18, 2004 A letter from the MDEQ references the 2001 inspection report that first pointed out problems with toe drains: “The inspection report for the Argo Dam identifies problems that may threaten its safety. Specifically, the toe drains along the downstream side of the raceway canal embankment are failing. The toe drain failure is complicated by the dense growth of trees and brush on the raceway embankment and by the inability to block the flow of water into the raceway during an emergency. The toe drain system should be repaired immediately, and a means of blocking flow into the raceway canal should be devised as soon as possible.”
  • March 2006 The city’s Environmental Commission creates the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) committee
  • Sept. 12, 2007 The assessment of the dam’s condition and recommendations in the dam safety report includes: “The principal spillway and main embankment of the Argo Dam are in good condition. However, the headrace embankment is in poor condition. The dam has adequate spillway capacity to pass the design flood. The following recommended actions are listed by priority. (1.) Submit a copy of the contingency plan to block off flow from the millrace by February 29, 2008. (2.) Remove overhanging and dead trees from the headrace embankment by July 31, 2008. …”
  • Dec. 26, 2007 A letter from the DEQ includes the following: “The headrace embankment of the Argo Dam is in poor condition, and the toe drains are not totally functional. This has been described in past reports, and you have received a permit to perform repairs to the toe drain system. It is our understanding that this work has not been done yet, and discussion is ongoing regarding the future disposition of the dam.”
  • March 24, 2008 A letter from the DEQ includes the following: “One of the recommendations of this report was that a contingency plan be developed to rapidly shut off flow to the headrace in the event of concerns over the headrace. You provide this contingency plan to this office in your letter of February 21, 2008. The contingency plan lacks detail on how an actual or impending failure of the headrace embankment would be determined. … [P]lease be reminded that this headrace contingency plan is intended to be a short term plan to alleviate potential impacts caused by a headrace embankment failure. It does not address the significant structural concerns with the headrace embankment.”
  • January-February 2009 City staff conduct a series of public meetings. [Chronicle coverage of a public meeting at Forsythe Middle School.]
  • April 28, 2009 The final version of HRIMP report is finished. Key conclusion: “The decision at the Argo area comes down to one of community preference. Both options will require significant investment of capital and operation and maintenance dollars in addition to staff time.”
  • May 19, 2009 The city’s Park Advisory Commission recommends on a narrow 1-vote margin to retain the Argo Dam. [Chronicle coverage of PAC Argo Dam discussion.]
  • May 28, 2009 The city’s Environmental Commission recommends removal of the dam. [Chronicle coverage of EC Argo Dam discussion.]
  • June 15, 2009 At a work session conducted by the city council, the apparent consensus was that staff should be directed to identify questions that would need to be studied for dam-in and dam-out scenarios and to ask DEQ for additional time.
  • July 16, 2009 Ann Arbor sends a letter to MDEQ outlining specific areas of study for the dam-in and dam-out options, and asks for an extension of the deadline until April 2010.
  • Aug. 6, 2009 MDEQ sends a letter in reply granting the extension, but ordering the closure and dewatering of the headrace.

Additional Chronicle coverage: “Huron River of Data” and “Dam Questions Dominate Caucus.

City’s Letter: July 16, 2009

Discussion at the city council’s June work session reflected the fact that from this point forward, the city would need to start spending money – either for additional study or to implement a solution. And money spent on additional study could be allocated most efficiently by electing to explore primarily either a dam-in or a dam-out solution. Otherwise put, continuing to consider both alternatives equally would not be as cost-efficient as making at least a preliminary decision one way or the other.

So in the city’s response to the DEQ, specific relevant areas of further study were identified for dam-in and dam-out scenarios. In some cases there’s overlap. For example, both scenarios see detailed bathymetry as helpful. But on a dam-in scenario, the idea of that analysis is to create a baseline model for future sedimentation modeling; on a dam-out scenario, the idea of the bathymetry includes a model of the shape of the new river channel after dam removal.

From the city’s July 16, 2009 letter to the DEQ, here’s a list of the dam-in areas of study:

Dam-In Areas for Further Study

  • Sediment analysis – The City plans to undertake a sediment study to determine the extent of sediment and estimate future sediment management costs if the impoundment is preserved.
  • Detailed Bathymetry – The City plans to undertake a detailed bathymetric analysis of the impoundment to create a baseline model of the impoundment for future sedimentation monitoring.
  • Hydropower Options – The Veterans Administration is evaluating reintroduction of hydropower at one or more Ann Arbor dam(s) and we would like time to see how their interest develops and whether this interest and investment affects the decision by City Council.
  • Environmental Consequences of Impoundment Preservation – The city plans to review the available data and obtain new data in key areas to create a baseline for monitoring the impoundment effects on river water quality and ecosystem services.
  • Economic Consequences of Impoundment Preservation – From these studies, the city will estimate long-term dam maintenance costs and develop cost-sharing plans.
  • Outside Funding Sources – City staff will evaluate alternate funding sources for rebuilding the millrace to remove the canoe portage. Due to current economic conditions, any decision will be based on our ability to leverage outside resources so identifying viable outside funding sources is critical to any City Council decision. Recent federal support for the Great Lakes is a $400 million opportunity that we need to evaluate.
  • River Flow Evaluations – Variations in flow at the USGS gauge at Wall Street are of concern to MDNR and the city is evaluating mechanisms to reduce the variability from Barton and Argo to better meet run-of-the-river conditions.
  • From the city’s July 16, 2009 letter to the MDEQ, these are the dam-out areas of study:

    Dam-Out Areas for Further Study

  • Sediment analysis – The city plans to undertake a sediment study to determine the extent of sediment affected by dam removal and estimate sediment management costs as part of this analysis.
  • Detailed Bathymetry – The City plans to undertake a detailed bathymetric analysis of the impoundment to answer several questions including the shape of the new river channel.
  • Detailed HEC-RAS model – The city plans to use the detailed bathymetry to develop a detailed HEC-RAS model to answer several outstanding questions including how the floodplain may change.
  • Rowing – Because the rowing community is most adversely affected by dam removal, City staff will be evaluating two alternative rowing venues to determine if they are viable sites for rowing. We believe that it will take some time to work out the details at one or more sites.
  • Environmental Consequences of Dam Removal – The city plans to review the available data and obtain new data in key areas to better understand the changes in river water quality and ecosystem services.
  • Economic Consequences of Dam Removal – Develop more detailed economic analysis of dam removal including new recreation opportunities and costs and reallocation of existing funding to other projects.
  • Outside Funding Sources – City staff will evaluate alternate funding sources for dam removal. Due to current economic conditions, any decision will be based on our ability to leverage outside resources so identifying viable outside funding sources is critical to any City Council decision. Recent federal support for the Great Lakes is a $400 million opportunity that we need to evaluate.
  • River Flow Evaluations – Variations in flow at the USGS gauge at Wall Street are of concern to MDNR and the city is evaluating mechanisms to reduce the variability from Barton and Argo to better meet run-of-the-river conditions.
  • MDEQ’s Letter: August 6, 2009

    In the letter from MDEQ, dated August 6, 2009, the state agency orders the city of Ann Arbor to do the following:

    1. On or before November 1, 2009, completely shut off the flow from the impoundment to the headrace and dewater the headrace. The headrace shall remain dewatered until the headrace embankment deficiencies have been corrected in a manner approved by the LWMD or the dam has been removed. The City shall continue to monitor the seepage emanating from the embankment at least monthly and notify this office if it worsens or is found to transport solids. This monitoring may be discontinued upon approval by this office, if the seepage ceases upon dewatering of the headrace.
    2. On or before April 30, 2010, complete an evaluation of the options to address the deficiencies of the headrace embankment of the dam.
    3. If the decision is made to keep the dam in place, all work to correct the headrace embankment deficiencies in a manner approved by the LWMD must be completed by December 31, 2010.
    4. If the decision is made to remove the dam, the removal shall be completed by December 31, 2012. The City shall complete all necessary engineering design work for the removal and submit and application for the removal to this department by February 1, 2011.
    5. The City shall submit reports on its progress to comply with this order annually by August 15 of each year until the deficiencies with the headrace embankment have been corrected.

    The Nov. 1 deadline for closing the millrace (headrace) comes after the last date indicated on the city of Ann Arbor’s website for canoe rental from the city’s liveries, which is Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009. Through what little remains of this season, then, there might be little impact on the revenues about which Scott Rosencrans had expressed concern in his Aug. 20 interview.

    Based on The Chronicle’s telephone conversation with Naud, closing off the millrace is fairly straightforward – a metal plate gets slid into place. But draining the millrace – or “dewatering” it, in the parlance of the MDEQ – is something that’s somewhat more complex, Naud said. The fact that the resulting empty millrace could pose a potential hazard to the public was, said Naud, “not a new thought.” Naud characterized how to deal with that – possibly through fencing it off – as a still-outstanding question. If a decision were made to fence it off, Naud said, it’d be a straightforward matter to calculate how much fencing was required and to price it out.

    Naud sketched out one possible timeline for decision-making that would start the city in one direction or the other – at least in terms of what study options were pursued – on the dam-in dam-out question. That sketch would see the city council conduct a work session in mid-September on the dam question. Then at their second September meeting (Sept. 21) they might give some clear direction, say in the form of a resolution authorizing an expenditure.

    If the city council does take up the topic of the dam at a September work session, it will need to add the dam to a joint work session already planned with the city’s planning commission to discuss zoning revisions (A2D2). At the city council’s last meeting, the idea of adding a discussion of council rules and ethics to the work session’s agenda was rejected.

    Millrace at Argo Dam looking downstream

    Millrace at Argo Dam looking downstream from the point where the millrace allows canoeists to exit Argo Pond. (Photo by the writer.)

    From millrace to portage point near the Argo Dam

    View from east to west. Canoeists currently paddle down the millrace from the right, and take their boats out of the water and down the steps indicated by the sign at the left. (Photo by the writer.)


    1. By John Charles
      August 26, 2009 at 11:49 am | permalink

      Great article, Dave. Thanks for the thorough, readable coverage.

      One thing to add is that all the resolutions, from HRIMP to PAC to the Environmental Commission, have included a “safety valve” for rowing. Every group that’s endorsed removing Argo has publicly stated that the dam should come out only if rowing can be accommodated elsewhere. The city’s proposed evaluation of alternative rowing sites is crucial. Rowing might be able to move, but significant obstacles stand in the way and we need to know if they can be overcome.

      Beyond that, it’s clear from the DEQ letters that the dam is in worse shape than many people have allowed.

      More important, dewatering the mill race is not the low-cost solution that some folks hoped for. It’s just a band-aid. We will still have to repair the toe drains if the dam stays in, so dewatering will only add to the final bill.

      And the costs keep coming. Due up in the next few years is some $250,000 for regular work on the dam’s “mechanicals,” over and above about $60,000 in annual maintenance costs.

      Who’s going to pay the next round of costs? Soon the city will almost certainly move the Argo costs from the drinking water fund to the Parks Department (Argo doesn’t provide drinking water, only recreation). But Parks’s budget can barely sustain the Senior Center. Are we really going to load that budget with massive new expenses? Does that money come out of Mack Pool? Leslie Science Center? Are we going to tell skateboarders that even though we don’t have a dime for a skatepark, we’re going to give hundreds of thousands to Argo Pond?

      Dam removal would cost Parks nothing. The money would come from state and federal funds and other parts of the city budget.

      Moreover, the Argo canoe livery makes money for parks. If we take out Argo dam, the livery will raise even more revenue—from paddling to kayak lessons and even tubing. Those activities would be more than fun. They’d feed the Parks budget with tens of thousands of additional dollars.

      I’d like to see Argo dam come out primarily for environmental reasons, provided rowing can find a new home. But the fact that there’s no quick fix for the toe drains, and the likely hit on parks seal the deal for me.

    2. By Dave Askins
      August 26, 2009 at 12:09 pm | permalink

      Re [1] “… the dam is in worse shape than many people have allowed.”

      It’s worth distinguishing for the purposes of discussion between (i) the mechanical (concrete and steel) structure that holds back water at Argo, and (ii) the earthen embankment that holds back the millrace from the river. There’s a vagueness attached to the phrase “the dam” which could be meant to refer to the mechanical portion of the dam, the earthen berm, or both of these. The September 2007 letter gives the mechanical part a clean bill of health: “The principal spillway and main embankment of the Argo Dam are in good condition.”

      So I’d encourage readers to maintain that distinction — to do so doesn’t require someone to take a dam-in position. But by maintaining the distinction in the conversation between the concrete and steel structure versus the earthen berm, it puts people on the same page with respect to what’s in poor condition and what’s not. And that probably is a better starting point for conversation than an argument about what “the dam” is.

    3. By Anonymous
      August 26, 2009 at 12:56 pm | permalink

      As you’ve reported, the DEQ is apparently concerned that the earthen embankment part of the dam is in danger of failing, because the embankment’s “toe drain” isn’t working properly. What’s a toe drain and why the concern?

      From a few different sources online, it appears that it is always the case with earthen embankments that a little water will find its way through, and this is known as seepage. A little seepage is OK, but too much seepage creates bigger and bigger channels (a process called piping) through the barrier that can cause the whole thing to fail (collapse). A toe drain is constructed at the base of the embankment, on the opposite side from the water that is being held back.

      Apparently, building this drain at the base of the dam on the far side creates a pressure gradient that causes seepage water to exit safely out of the base of the dam to the other side, without degrading the dam over time. If the toe drain isn’t working, you have a dam failure problem. This would explain the DEQ’s insisting that the mill race be shut off and drained, to eliminate the possibility of further degradation of the embankment and/or a full-on failure.

      Backgrounder on earthen dams: Ohio DNR

      More background and some diagrams: Department of Geo-Engineering at the University of Durham

    4. By Georgee Hammond
      August 26, 2009 at 12:56 pm | permalink

      The City Parks department has a printable pdf of the parklands around Argo Pond here:
      link to pdf

      The city has maps like this of *all* the city parks, available on their website.

      At the bottom of the map you can see the concrete and steel portion of the dam (labeled “Argo Dam”) and the earthen embankment (aka headrace embankment) extending off to the right of the dam, with a trail running along it.

      Since it isn’t mentioned in the story, the original reason for the embankment was to channel water to a hydroelectric plant. The plant is on the north side of the river, just west of the Broadway Bridge, and across from Broadway Park. The water fell through turbines to generate electricity, and then was directed back into the river channel. The hydroelectric plant was shut down years ago. Repair or maintenance was considered too expensive, given the value of the electricity that would have been generated at the time.

      Lots more background information here: link
      A good place to start is the Primer, “Planning Along the Huron” and the associated documents.

    5. August 26, 2009 at 2:03 pm | permalink

      This is all pretty bewildering and not in a “how could they?” manner, but in a “what does this mean?” manner. Having tried to read this I’m completely lost as to what this means. Is it the case that next year one won’t be able to canoe past the Argo pond? Will Argo pond exist? Is the dam staying?

      The real problem is terminology. What’s a millrace? Toe drain? Earthen berm? Dam-in and dam-out? Headrace embankment? I care a great deal about the pond and its area and I gather that something important has happened or is at least moving along, but for the life of me I can’t make out what that is.

    6. By John Charles
      August 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm | permalink

      Dave, you make a fair point about the distinction between the concrete sections—which most of us think of when we picture a dam—and the embankment. The earthen embankment has got problems at the moment.

      But that distinction is beside the point for at least two reasons. First, as “Anonymous” explains, the toe drains (described by the DEQ as “failing”) protect the embankment from collapse. If the berm dissolves, the effects are still catastrophic.

      Second, the question about what to do with Argo has never been only about this particular repair to this particular spot. Maintaining a dam is expensive, and this is just one expense in a long string of them, with many more to come.

      But even that’s not the whole story. There are many reasons Argo’s being considered for removal. The DNR and the USGS have been concerned for years about the environmental impacts, especially the wild fluctuations in flow caused by Argo Dam. These fluctuations are some of the most extreme in the state, and they do serious damage to the river ecosystem.

      Other issues: Pond users have complained in the past that the pond is choked with weeds and filling in with sediment. There’s apparently not enough room on the pond for a Skyline High rowing team. The city’s budget is tight; reducing the number of dams from 4 to 3 would cut expenses in the long term. There are others.

      It may turn out that none of these are sufficient reason to take out Argo Dam, but this issue has been brewing for a long, long time, and it’s on the table because of many factors. The toe drain repair is only one of them.

    7. August 26, 2009 at 5:29 pm | permalink

      An empty Mill Race adjacent to a weed-choked, stinky impoundment–great aesthetics for Ann Arbor’s valuable waterfront. Add some tacky invasive Mute Swans, and we’re all set!

    8. By Ted Hejka
      August 26, 2009 at 5:53 pm | permalink

      Removing Argo Dam is long overedue. In the long run it will save the City money by not having to upkeep the dam and it would be a recreational boon to the area for fishing, kayaking and canoing. Not too mention that rivers are just so much more pleasing to sit by and look at and listen to than a stagnant impoundment.
      The rowers could find a new home on Barton or Geddes Pond.
      Let’s bring back this small section of the Huron River. Let Argo Pond fade off into history.

    9. By Charley Sullivan
      August 26, 2009 at 8:18 pm | permalink

      I’m confused. Is Argo the source of wild fluctuations in the flow of the river (John)or a stinky stagnant empoundment (Jonathan and Ted)? The dam at Argo neither speeds up nor slows down the flow that comes off the dam at Barton pond; it is neutral in that way, John. And Jonathan and Ted, if you need to be shown that Argo is in fact a gorgeous natural stretch of water, teeming with life, where rowers and other users are also able to be, please feel free to join me one morning for practice when the U-M men’s team starts up practice again in two weeks. Perhaps then, Ted, you can also begin to understand whether or not Ann Arbor’s rowers “could find a new home” easily or not on Barton and/or Geddes.

    10. By dave
      August 26, 2009 at 11:12 pm | permalink

      There are a couple of things that I have not seen discussed and I wonder about. One is that there has been massive fluctuations in the river level down stream from Argo pond this summer viewable here. This has left the area in the island park area dry to the point that I was picking up flopping fish from the river bottom and moving them back to the river channel. This is not right. The second thing that I have wondered about is, several years ago there was an article in the Ann Arbor news about the chemicals from Gelman that are contaminating the ground water. The plume was headed for the Huron and was supposed to be there in several years. Several years are up. The method of reducing the volume of chemical in the water was to pump water to a central point put it in ponds and aerate it. With 13 feet of drop between Barton and Argo removing the dam would really help aerate the water when the contamination gets to the river.

    11. August 26, 2009 at 11:49 pm | permalink

      The dam should be removed and the rowers should go somewhere else. The river should be restored for aesthetic and ecological reasons. Argo pond is stagnant and harmful to the Huron River. The uncovered river will be beautiful and pleasing to the citizens. To take money away from recreational programs to save this loser dam id wrong-headed. Remove the dam and let’s see the river as it should be.

    12. August 27, 2009 at 1:20 am | permalink

      I like the part about the variability at Barton and Argo dams. Both dams are required by FERC to be operated as run of the river dams. Not today though. Another odd fluctuation from about 200cfs to almost 2000. I wouldn’t call 10 times the normal flow run of the river. Link to USGS data.

      Compare this to the nice even curves that show up on the Mill Creek gauge.

      This is what you get when you take these dams out.

    13. By David
      August 27, 2009 at 8:57 am | permalink

      The city needs to make a decision. We need someone like Dave Bing to step in and make this decision. Our current leaders seem to be afraid to make a decision (this has been going on for several years!!). Please put politics aside, weigh the options, make a final decision and go forward.

    14. By my two cents
      August 27, 2009 at 9:07 am | permalink

      I agree with #8 Ted and #11 Wally. The dams should be removed. It will save the city money and the rowers do have another place to go, Geddes or Barton. The rowing community is putting the community at large through all this drama, and potential massive expense, because of a “preference”. Is that really reasonable? What dollar amount should be attached to a small groups “preference” when they do have a viable alternative? How much is too much?

      Removing the Dam appears to be the correct answer; the only problem is once again, specific individuals with personal agendas do not want to look at the problem with open minds. This will NOT be the end of rowing in the community. So if the rowers have somewhere else to go that is actually BETTER than Argo, should the dam to be left in even though it will cost the city much more money to maintain it in the future.. Change is hard but sometimes it is actually for the better.

      A couple of other important facts that back up my claim of this being a preference rather than a necessity are listed below:

      1. Mike Taft, Head Coach for Rowing at Huron High and who represented the rowing community as a whole on HRIMP, stated in a PAC work session, that rowing at both Geddes and Barton was “possible, just not preferable”.

      2. In 1983 the Michigan Rowing Association, speaking on behalf of all of the rowing groups working on Argo, petitioned the Park Advisory Commission to recommend relocation of rowing to Barton and supplied significant data to support the idea that Geddes and Barton were superior locations for their sport. PAC just didn’t want to recommend the expense at that time.

    15. August 27, 2009 at 9:36 am | permalink

      #10 Dave – One of the dioxane plumes from Pall/Gellman is heading in the general direction of Barton Pond, but is not there yet. For detailed information on the plumes and the cleanup, see the CARD (Coalition for Action on the Remediation of Dioxane) website.

    16. By Gerry Clark
      August 27, 2009 at 10:26 am | permalink

      Since the potentially leaky head race is the immediate problem why not deal with it first. The bowl of the head race would need to be filled or entirely regraded to accommodate the well used boarder to boarder trail. This needs addressing as part of the dam removal, if that option is pursued. Fencing it off seems a bad solution.

      The head race, once sealed off from Argo Pond might accommodate sediments pumped from the bottom of Argo Pond. Pumping was done a Gallup Park (Geddes Pond) several years ago. The sediments were placed just east of Huron Parkway Bridge. At Argo this may be a way of relocating troublesome sediments from behind the Dam. It would improve the water quality and decrease plant growth in Argo Pond. After a few weeks of dewatering and a top soil cap odor would not be an issue. Of course this would all be subject to MDEQ approval.

      Finding a way to get canoes downstream from the Dam while the Dam remains still needs to be resolved.

    17. By John Charles
      August 27, 2009 at 12:47 pm | permalink

      Hi Charley. In answer to your question about whether Argo is a stagnant impoundment or a source of wild fluctuations: it’s both.

      Upstream of a dam, water is obviously very slow moving. That’s the point—to stop the flow. Because of that, you get weed growth, sedimentation, higher water temperatures, increased evaporation, damaged habitat, and so on.

      Downstream you have the opposite problem. Argo pond is like a bathtub that’s full to the brim. When you add more water, the pond “overflows” through the gates of the dam. There are two problems with that.

      Argo’s got an extra problem. The Argo gates are touchy. If the wake of a motorboat or even a wind pushes water against them, they respond as if there’s a rainstorm, and they open. So you get these rushes of water downstream even when there’s no rain. Then the gates shut, and while the pond refills, the flow downstream drops radically.

      So the stagnant pond/wild fluctuation statements are not contradictory. In fact, they go hand in hand. This is the fundamental problem with dams—they wreck the natural flow of a river, with serious consequences to the ecosystem and public safety. And while this is true for virtually all dams, it’s particularly bad at Argo. That’s a big reason the DNR listed Argo as a priority for removal.

    18. By Georgee Hammond
      August 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm | permalink

      In answer to Charley’s question (#9), both. Stinky impoundment above the dam, variable flow below the dam.

    19. By Steve
      August 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm | permalink

      Up front, let me say I support the removal of Argo Dam (both the earthen embankment, as well as the mechanical dam). As a biologist, I know first hand the great things removal would do for the river.

      However, I have to say I am apalled by the confusion that abounds in this arguement. The truth is I am not a rower, I canoe and kayak the huron frequently (several times month), but I am not a rower. I do not understand their end of the arguement, just as they most likely do not understand my own (any rower/aquatic biologists out there?).

      Simply telling them to move to one of the other ponds in town may seem great to those of us in favor of removal, but what do we know of rowing? I have no idea how much space they need, what their concerns about current are, and what ponds may actually work, etc. Charley Sullivan makes the point that Argo is beautiful in its own right, and I am glad he thinks so.

      I suppose what my rambling comes down to is that underlying thread that makes us human, empathy, and the lack of it in this arguement. I myself, feel as though Argo should be removed, but do find it unfortunate that the rowers would have to move. They appreciate the river in a completely different way than most of us, but they still appreciate the river. Stop calling each other names, and do what is best for the river.

    20. By Boatman
      August 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm | permalink

      Good day to each of you.

      It is unfortunate that Argo has fostered such sound bites. Just last Sunday I paddled Argo pond. It was a tremendous canoe trip from Argo to Barton and back. George – I must completely disagree with you, I did not experience any “stinkiness” – the pond was teaming with kayaks, rowers, canoes, fishermen, not to mention Herons and plenty of turtles.

      I did not see any “choking” weeds at all.

      I must say that watching a rower come gliding by was also very interesting – looks effortless – until you hear the heavy breathing and see the perspiration. The man rowing looked to be in his 50′s not a high schooler or college kid. It must be a thrill to be able to do that in such a narrow boat.

      I would like to suggest that we put a human face to the argument – each of the people I encountered Sunday was enjoying the day and the body of water – I for one enjoy the placid water and the time to reflect away from the hustle and bustle of life. The Argo pond offers just such an experience.

      If I had my druthers, I would maintain and improve the pond to the benefit of souls such as my self and the folks that I joined on Argo pond last Sunday

    21. By ArborJack
      August 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm | permalink

      My thoughts about Argo Dam and Argo Pond are more like those expressed by Boatman. I think Argo Pond has been under appreciated and needs wider advocacy than just the rowing teams. My “use” of Argo Pond is at present solely for photography and just relaxing. It happens to be located closest to where I live, so for me it’s been a wonderfully accessible part of Ann Arbor’s parks system. After major surgery last year, I made walks “getting to Argo Pond” part of my recovery.

      All that having been said, it is still true that keeping Argo Pond will require a lot of money. Just tossing out the idea: it might help if a fund drive were held and might also help if there could be some way to create a yearly fee for using the Argo Pond and the land around it. After all, it’s pretty clear that this whole situation arose largely because of neglect.

      The current discussion might be better directed toward what Argo Pond could be rather than about what it is and whether to keep it “as is” or get rid of it altogether.

    22. By Patricia Lesko
      August 27, 2009 at 7:27 pm | permalink

      We live 5 minutes from Bandemer, and kayak Bandemer to Barton several times each week. In the Spring, we frequently kayak Bandemer/Argo to Gallup (using the portage). One question I have is about the footpath next to the millrace. Would that be closed? It’s a heavily used bike/walk link between Riverside Park (by going under the Broadway Bridge) and Argo.

    23. By Charley Sullivan
      August 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm | permalink

      Steve, thanks for your note above. I am a rower, well a coach of rowers, but I also do love this river. In it’s current state, I spend up to 20 hours a week on it, it greets my mornings, I look for creatures that live in and on it, I read its currents and I care for it deeply. I have tried, in all this, to stay civil and open, even as I’ve often felt that many on the “other side” have taken little or no effort to understand “our” use of the Argo stretch, and why we do what we do. I often feel our rowing is considered no more than some leisure activity that, in the end, isn’t all that important. It’s almost as if the river to some on the “other side” is something living worthy of full respect, but that we, the rowers,in an odd way, aren’t quite worthy of the same value and respect.

      So Steve, thanks for looking for common ground. It is appreciated.

      As we move forward, I hope we can all make good decisions, both for the river and for the people who use and enjoy it. But I hope we can see this as people having differing but valid feelings and opinions, and not as one/either group having truth and others being ignorant.

    24. By Charley Sullivan
      August 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm | permalink

      Sorry for the it’s/its error. My high school grammar teacher is rolling over in his grave.

    25. By ArborJack
      August 27, 2009 at 9:07 pm | permalink

      Well said, Mr. Sullivan. :-)

      Continuing the thread you started, to me the statements by some who want the dam and impoundment to go don’t just border on arrogance, they’re well within that territory. As in politics, I’ve learned to be wary of “purists” when it comes to environmental issues.

      That someone mentioned Mute Swans as “an invasive species” just shows what I mean when I talk about purists. It happens that Mute Swans were imported from Europe over 150 years ago and they have not had much impact on other species or the environment during that time. I also notice that this particular statement omits mention of a native species, the Canada Goose, which we all know has become a big problem. So of the two, I would “keep” the Mute Swans which add beauty to the river and to the impoundments and start talking about a much needed culling of the native Canada Goose. That is, when talking about “improving” Ann Arbor’s stretch of the Huron River.

      I don’t have the credentials needed to take a fully scientific position, but I too love the Huron River (as well as a couple of others around the state). I’m 64 now but I’ve been keenly interested in Michigan’s natural resources since childhood. My daughter, who has a degree in environmental science from U of M, says “I got this from you, Dad.” She says this partly because I taught her canoeing on the Huron River, as soon as she was big enough to wield a paddle.

      Oh, and don’t worry about the occasional grammatical mistake, you have it easy . I have a friend who teaches ESL and boy do I hear about it when I make a mistake in one of my frequent emails to him.

      Meanwhile, I can only suggest that we who want to keep Argo Pond (A) be realistic about the costs (and paying those costs) and (B) strengthen our support for this special place in Ann Arbor.

    26. By CJ
      August 28, 2009 at 11:12 am | permalink

      I’ve noticed talk the costs of different options for the Argo Dam; but, I can’t find any analysis of the actual costs, just vague references or blank pages(See page 64 of the HRIMP final report for the “economic considerations”.).

      Does anyone have more solid info on what we’re really talking about for costs for the city? Like any “home improvement” project, it would be wonderful to continue a ‘money is no object’ approach to the analysis; however, regardless of opinion, it is important to ultimately pin down some hard numbers and determine what the city can
      (or can’t) afford in both the short and long terms. Perhaps the info is out there, but I have not found it.


    27. By CJ
      August 28, 2009 at 11:17 am | permalink

      Sorry, I tried to link to the HRIMP report, but it didn’t work. You can get to it from the Wednesday’s Chronical artice “MDEQ to Ann Arbor: Close Argo Millrace” in the ‘Background’ section under the date April 28, 2009. With no hard numbers, it’s unclear why they concluded that, “The decision at the Argo area comes down to one of community preference.”

    28. By Joe Edwards
      August 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm | permalink


      There is a alternative cost matrix in the HRIMP study (available at link) but the matrix includes the cost of toe drain repairs, which would not needed if the mill race gate is simply closed, and the annual costs for vegetation management, which is currently done by the rowing community. The study also lists $1.8 million for dredging if the dam stays and there has been no need for dredging in the 40 years the current dam has been in place. The alternatives analysis also includes $2.8 million for the value of the land created if the dam is removed. The value of the land seems to have been pulled out of thin air.

      The bottom line is that many community members believe that the matrix was inappropriately manipulated by proponents of dam removal.

      As others have said, Argo Dam is not a rowing community issue. As a property owner and tax payer, I am very concerned that the cost to remove the dam, and rehab the newly acquired land, is much higher than any other alternatives. Removing infrastructure that has a useful life of 50 years or more for ill defined, impossible to quantify, benefits is outrageous. I think it is ironic that the Huron River Watershed Council and the Mayor are using the same tactics and logic used by George W. Bush and administration on so many issues.

      The VA believes that the payback to retrofit the both Argo and Geddes Dams is less than 15 years and are working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an INDEPENDENT feasibility study to assess the potential.

      The relocation of the rowing community to other sites would increase the cost even more and, regardless of the promises all politician, will never happen.

    29. By Rod Johnson
      August 28, 2009 at 11:20 pm | permalink

      This has been a really fascinating (and mostly very civil) discussion (and there’s another taking place on the story). It’s good to get past the accusations of bad faith that have been thrown around on this issue, and I think that’s largely due here to Dave’s even-handed and data-rich story.

      However, after hearing all the good arguments on both sides, I find myself even more divided than before. Partly, I think it’s because I know what’s there now but I can’t really visualize what it would look like with the river flow restored. Can anyone paint a picture of what the area might look like, say five years out after dam removal? How much land will emerge between the present banks and the restored banks? What will it look like–mudflats, meadows, hillsides? How far below the current pond surface will the new river level be? How long will it take for significant vegetation to settle in?

    30. By MS
      August 29, 2009 at 9:27 pm | permalink

      As someone who passes the pond nearly every day, I am constantly reminded of its stench. I have also enjoyed rowing on it. So it’s fair to say that I’m ambivalent about the pond itself. However, it amazes me that the city of Ann Arbor is so reluctant to get rid of the dam(n) thing due to little more than the vocal opposition of the “rowing community”.

      Now, you can run your matrix however you like, there’s no way that retrofitting an old non-productive dam is cheaper than removing it. This dam–like all dams–is an environmental nuisance that–unlike most dams–fails to provide any economic benefits; the quicker it is removed the less it’s going to cost in the long run. As for hydro power, it’s a pipe dream. The theoretical electrical output amounts to a drop in the bucket. If the dam were not here today, no power company would bother trying to build it. And if they did, the city would balk at the environmental impact.

      As far as the cost of relocating the “rowing community”, who cares? Why should the city bear these costs (or give a flying hoot)? I ski, and I’m pretty sure that if the trash mountain in Brighton were found to be a hazard by the MDEQ and had to be bulldozed away and shipped back to Canada, there’d be no relocation program for me and the rest of the “skiing community”. I’d just go ski somewhere else.

      The economic and environmental arguments mustered in favor of the dam are nonsense obfuscations. They exist because the real argument is so petty that it borders on absurdity. Let’s be honest. This is about people who like to row boats on a pond. I like boats a lot (although I prefer my boats to have sails), and I love being on the water, so “I feel your pain”. But really, this pain is too trivial to warrant such controversy.

    31. August 30, 2009 at 12:04 pm | permalink

      I’ll repose my question to the community: if we don’t remove the dam, what will we do that would have a comparable benefit to the ecology of the river? At a minimum, how will we mitigate the erratic flows over the dam?

      Also, picking up on MS’s point about long-term costs, I think we’re at a point of opportunity right now, with regard to federal funding for dam removal, which may not exist much longer. The dam (and others on the Huron) will be removed eventually (or will simply be breached, if we can’t afford to remove them.) We can do it sooner and have the costs largely covered, or our kids can do it later and pay for it themselves (or live with the useless structure until it disintegrates if it’s only breached.)

    32. By Joe Edwards
      August 30, 2009 at 11:33 pm | permalink

      It seems clear to me that the delay in addressing the toe drain issue for nearly eight years has been a strategy of the mayor, the Huron River Watershed Council, and their allies to have the dam removed. Funds have been budgeted to repair the drains, but if the city fixed the drains, the chance to “be hip to the latest eco-fad” would be lost.

      My response to Mr. Bean’s question is “what does comparable benefit to the ecology of the river mean?” There has been a dam in the same area of the Huron River since 1832. Has the ecology/environment not adapted over the past 177 years? Haven’t the issues related to erratic flows been addressed in those same 177 years?

      As I have stated countless times in these forums, the decision to keep or remove the dam is NOT A ROWING ISSUE! It is very simply a cost/benefit decision. The HRIMP had the opportunity to honestly assess the alternatives related to Argo Dam and that opportunity was lost when the analysis was blatantly manipulated in favor of dam removal.

      MS – Good public policy requires honest alternative analysis. You apparently have no interest in considering all the factors involved in the decision – you want the dam out and the data be dammed!

      Sorry, but I don’t think public policy decisions should be made based on impassioned pleas. Insults hurled toward those who demand that their tax dollars are used intelligently are useless.

      I understand that the VA is required by both Executive Order #13423 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) to reduce its energy intensity by three percent per year respectively through the end of 2015 and the EPAct requires that the acquire at least 7.5 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2013, and the Executive Order requires that at least half of this renewable energy come from new renewable sources. The VA has determined that the electricity from retrofitted Argo and Geddes Dams would provide 25% of the VA Ann Arbor’s electricity needs and meet the demands of the law for the entire network of VA facilities in the area. The local VA has no other method for generating 7.5% of its electricity needs. They have piloted windmills and solar arrays, but do not have the space needed to come close to meeting their needs.

      The preliminary cost analysis (available at link) indicated a much better payback than the city’s initial analysis. The US Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to take a closer look at retrofitting the dams, including considering the affects of any proposed carbon cap and trade law on future electricity cost.

      My other question to proponents of dam removal is why are you not demanding that the city stop maintaining ALL non-revenue generating city parks if you are so concerned about the cost of maintaining the dam and Argo Pond? Be consistent and demand the city stop mowing the grass at Sugar Bush Park! Tell them to stop painting picnic shelter at Geddes Park!

    33. August 31, 2009 at 12:26 pm | permalink

      Joe, if I thought that those issues were of no concern or had already been addressed, I wouldn’t have asked the question. Do you have a suggestion?

      Here’s a somewhat more pointed question that might help: if the dam is kept in place, how might we modify it in order to allow for fish passage? (This is relevant for the other dams as well.)

      The VA might decide to take on the responsibility for the dam(s), and they might not. Whether they do or not doesn’t obviate these questions.

      “My other question to proponents of dam removal is why are you not demanding that the city stop maintaining ALL non-revenue generating city parks if you are so concerned about the cost of maintaining the dam and Argo Pond?”

      As John pointed out in comment #1, the dams are currently maintained out of the drinking water fund, while parks are maintained through a millage that we voted on. Personally speaking, I’m not “demanding” anything, just trying to do that “honest alternative analysis” thing that you and I both believe is important.

      “Insults hurled toward those who demand that their tax dollars are used intelligently are useless.”

      I agree. Please show us how to do it differently.

    34. By Charley Sullivan
      August 31, 2009 at 12:52 pm | permalink

      MS: Stench? What stench? I spend a lot of time on that river, and it just doesn’t stink. If you can give a source of stench, please let me know and I’ll go look for it. But I have 20 years of nearly daily experience on that stretch of water, and it hasn’t ever stunk. The only source of stench now is the new toilet facilities that the City has installed in the park, which have had some serious issues with their solar fans. Honestly, the Port-a-Johns worked much better.

      And Steve, if you think all the dams on the Huron are going away any time soon, that’s pretty naive. In fact, one of the reasons Argo has become a flashpoint is that it’s one of very few dams on the river that might even have a chance at coming out. If you think you or the HVWC will be able to take the dams that create Ford or Belleville lakes, or Barton Pond for that matter, well, good luck with that.

      Also, the flow of the water on Argo Pond is set up from the sluices on the dam at Barton. Trust me, the rowing coaches note every day how many of the gates at the “top” of the pond are open and how heavy the flow is. I doubt taking out the dam at Argo will change that flow variation in any way, but no-one’s done any studies to address the hydrology in any case, have they? If so, please share them. It’s just another case of claims being made about the river without any data . . .

    35. August 31, 2009 at 2:02 pm | permalink

      Charley, what was naive was for me to think that anyone would understand why I made that prediction. Any time soon? No. Eventually, though. But it’s irrelevant, please excuse me for bringing it up.

    36. By Rod Johnson
      August 31, 2009 at 2:41 pm | permalink

      Joe, it seems like you dismiss the $1.8M for dredging pretty lightly above. Dams have a limited life due to silting filling up the reservoir above them. There’s hasn’t been any need for dredging in 40 years because the pond wasn’t completely silted up yet, but the way I hear it, that is no longer the case. Isn’t Argo Dam’s useful life just about over?

      I don’t know the status of this issue now, but when the dam removal idea first came on to my radar screen, the discussion seemed to focus on the cost of dredging if the dam was kept. This seems to have been completely eclipsed by the toe drains discussion, but I haven’t heard that the need for dredging has gone away. Does anyone know the facts on this? (I apologizing for not googling this myself–I tried but was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of wordage that has been devoted to this controversy.)

    37. By Joe Edwards
      August 31, 2009 at 4:20 pm | permalink

      Steve – I don’t have suggestions for addressing your ecology or erratic flow issues. I am not an ecologist or a biologist. But I am asking – why is the environment pre-dam better than the environment that has adapted over the past 177 years and what indicates that there are unresolved erratic flow issues that necessitate the expenditure of millions of dollars to remove the dam?

      The Corps of Engineers have fish ladder solutions for hydro-electric dams, but I didn’t think that was an issue at Argo Dam. I could be wrong.

      Also, where the maintenance costs for the Argo Pond and dam are budgeted seems to be an “add-on” issue, brought up just recently, and while it demands resolution, the repair of the toe drains and the disposition of the dam should be addressed first.

      Rod – I do not dismiss the dredging costs. I just haven’t seen any documentation that demonstrates the need. I have heard anecdotally that when aerial photos of the pond from the mid 1970’s are compared to recent photos, there was little change in the amount of silt. I would expect a more detailed analysis of the issue before the HRIMP alternatives analysis was submitted.

    38. By Charley Sullivan
      August 31, 2009 at 5:01 pm | permalink

      Hi Steve and Rod:

      Yes, it’s all confusing. It seemed from the letter back to the state that in either case, there is testing of the sediment; and we were told a long time ago that the first step of taking the dam out is to dredge, to keep there from being too much silt spreading down the river. So perhaps that cost is similar in any event as well. But all that isn’t clear to me anymore. Again, what the process of removing the dam is has yet to be made fully clear.

    39. By Russ Miller
      September 1, 2009 at 2:09 am | permalink

      There were two inspection reports issued on Dec 19,2001 by the MDEQ – one for Argo, and one for Geddes. I’d like to know why they were handled so differently. Both sites originally had dams built to power mills (~1830), both were converted to hydroelectric operation, and then both were rebuilt with voter approved bonds (1970) for recreational use as the centerpiece of the park system. Both have been operated and maintained primarily with water system funds.

      Before the next MDEQ inspection came around in 2004, Mayor Hieftje and Council approved $672,187.23 in a series of resolutions (R-394-9-03 R-174-5-04 R-407-9-04)to repair Geddes Dam for this reason:

      “Whereas, It is necessary to complete the Geddes Dam Repair Work to comply with the MDEQ Safety Inspection Report (December 19, 2001);”

      Why did they feel it was it NOT necessary to comply with the 2001 (or 2004 or 2007) MDEQ safety inspection of Argo?

    40. By Jeremy Monroe
      September 2, 2009 at 2:09 am | permalink

      What’s not mentioned in all these debates is that Argo Pond is a beautiful part of the Ann Arbor Park system. I run on the trails surrounding the park all the time, and if it were reduced to a small stream it would lose much of its appeal. Since this town markets itself on its parks this is an important consideration.

      The dams were restored in the 1970s solely for the purpose of recreation and park enhancements, and they still serve this purpose today. Most of the parks are not in a purely natural state, and not every park needs to be fully natural. Should the swimming pools be removed and replaced with native woodland?

      Clearly the people advocating for Argo removal want to see every dam removed from the river. As soon as Argo is gone they’ll start campaigning for the next one. And for what? If the dam is removed, certain species will rebound, while others will become extinct. Council: I urge you to look at all the issues before you make your decision.

    41. September 2, 2009 at 10:19 am | permalink

      Oh, I so wanted to be able to just let Jeremy’s comment go by, but the extinction claim was too much. So here goes.

      I’ll start by finishing your second sentence, Jeremy. “…it would lose much of its appeal FOR ME.” You and I and everyone else here–short of citing a survey of some sort–speak for ourselves. The other 100,000+ residents of the city have other opinions. In this case, we simply don’t know how those opinions split over the appeal of pond vs. river.

      Not every park needs to be natural, I agree. And yet, we are (quite wisely, I think) making efforts to restore the more natural areas of our parks, which comprise a large portion of our park lands. So, swimming-pool straw man aside, our community has invested in protecting and restoring natural areas, including the river.

      More to the point, the many parks and other public (e.g., school properties/facilities) and private opportunities for recreation provide more things to do than any single person could reasonably participate in over a lifetime. (But you want your experience by the pond. And, no, you’re not the first to mention its beauty, which is also a subjective topic of debate.)

      Meanwhile, one river flows through this community. It offers multiple recreational opportunities at multiple locations. Removing Argo dam would not eliminate (extinct?) any of them. Not one.

      “If the dam is removed, certain species will rebound, while others will become extinct.”

      … … Please explain, with examples. (I suggest that you check the definition of “extinct” first.)

    42. September 2, 2009 at 10:55 am | permalink

      Joe, regarding the erratic flow, see the “River Flow Evaluations” item in both Areas for Further Study recommendations in the story above, as well as John Charles’ comment #17. You might contact the watershed council or look in the HRIMP report for more info. (Other online stories and/or discussions on this issue have touched on this as well, but I’m not going to search for an example right now.)

      As for adaptation, I think the term you’re looking for is “adjust”. (That’s just off the top of my head, not some ecological term. Maybe someone else has a better suggestion.) A species can adapt over many generations (more on the order of hundreds or thousands as opposed to several), if at all, but that’s at the species level. The “ecology”, or community of species, (to which I think you mean to refer), adjusts and simply changes over time in response to environmental conditions. Some species come, and some species “go”. In the Huron, I don’t know if those adjustments are continuing or not in response to the presence of Argo dam. I suspect that they are and that some native species are continuing to decline in population. Fortunately, when the dam failed several decades back, some native species (mostly fish) had a brief, limited opportunity to move across the former barrier and somewhat rejuvenate their genetic mix.

      The native community of species is “better” because non-native species are often invasive and can lead–in combination with other environmental stresses–to extinction (at least locally) of native species. In the bigger picture (the Huron River watershed, at least), a concern is that all the impacts of the many dams, plus all the runoff impacts, plus all the invasive species impacts, plus other stresses could lead to local extinctions. Local extinctions could combine into regional and (rapidly, depending on the species) global extinctions. Extinctions can trigger a domino effect of other extinctions if other stresses continue. If we just love carp and some of the other invasives, maybe it’s not an issue. Ultimately, the dams will be gone, we will be gone, and the river will remain, with whatever species survive our selfishness (i.e., lack of love for other forms of life.)

      I’m not an ecologist either, though I studied it (general ecology, stream ecology, freshwater ecology, and marine ecology courses) at U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. If you really want to learn more, I suggest that you contact the watershed council or the School.

    43. By a2eastsider
      September 2, 2009 at 12:22 pm | permalink

      Nobody likes to make an unpopular decision, particularly in these days when some apallingly bad behavior has been exhibited throughout the country on various topics, but the decision needs to be made. I fervently hope that it is made based on many factors, cost to repair or remove, cost to maintain should it stay, impact on the river quality/environment. While it is unfortunate that rowing will be disrupted at that location, we cannot make a decision of this scale based on a vocal minority (and yes, I do believe it is a minority).

      I urge City Council to show us some leadership and also show us that you can make a tough decision, even if some people won’t like it, because it is the decision that is best for the City and for the tax payers who support it.

      Take it down.

    44. By Joe Edwards
      September 2, 2009 at 2:38 pm | permalink

      A2Eastsider – According to Leigh Greden, those in the 3rd Ward who want to maintain Argo Pond (NOT JUST THE ROWING COMMUNITY!) were in the majority during the August City Council primary.

      Steve – I have reached a point of agreeing to disagree with you. I just don’t believe the ecology and flow issues that you cite are justifications for spending money to remove the dam and losing Argo Pond, which I believe is an invaluable asset to the city of Ann Arbor.

    45. By Russ Miller
      September 3, 2009 at 12:29 am | permalink


      Regarding flow fluctuations: Argo is not the only dam above the Ann Arbor gage. Are you aware of the recent FERC findings that the Barton site has frequently been failing to operate in run-of-the-river mode? They have scheduled a special environmental inspection for Sept 16 to investigate these issues and requested a operational plan to address the problem: Letter requesting City of Ann Arbor, MI to file a Run-of-River plan w/in 120 days Deviations re Barton Dam Project under P-3142.

      snippets from the letter:

      “Your filing includes hourly generation and pond level records for the requested period and explanations for specific deviations from the pond level parameters. Specifically, you note that the required minimum flow was maintained at the project, except for short durations on December 23, 2007 and February 5, 2008. You also identify deviations of the pond level parameters and associated reasons, on December 12, 17, 19 and 23, 2007; January 6 and 18, 2008; and February 5 and 12, 2008. the majority of these deviations occurred due to maintenance activities and no identifiable reason was provided for January 6.”

      “Since gaging stations were not installed at the project, as required by the FWS’s article 2 terms and conditions letter, we used the available hourly generation records and the turbine flow rating table provided to determine equivalent flow estimates per hourly generation values. In reviewing this information, we identified specific dates and times when project discharges fluctuated significantly over short periods of time. Specifically, we identified run-of-river deviations on December 8, 18, 20, and 21, 2007; January 2, 4, 6, 10, 16, 30, 31, 2008; and Feburary 3, 4, 6, 8, and 14, 2008.”

      “Based upon our review of the available information, it is apparent that you are not always operating your project in a run-of-the-river mode. The records show that the reservior elevation may have been maintained at a relatively steady level, but downstream flows fluctuate frequently in conjunction with project operations.”

      Count those days up and we have a total of 23 days out of 74 studied where Barton Pond levels deviate or run-of-the-river deviations occur due to Barton operations. I’ve reviewed the Barton Pond Elevation charts vs. AA gage flows and believe there are more days where smaller elevation deviations correlate with gage fluctuations. The issue is not as straightforward as HRWC is making it out to be, and I wonder if the city has been blaming fluctuations on Argo to avoid having to deal with FERC to fix Barton.

      Here’s a timelapse of some crazy dam tricks from July 8, 2009.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the flows are unnatural at the Ann Arbor gage and should be fixed. I do not believe that Argo is the primary cause of the fluctuations.

    46. September 3, 2009 at 11:11 am | permalink

      “I do not believe that Argo is the primary cause of the fluctuations.”

      Why, specifically? Or did you mean to say that you believe that Argo MAY NOT be the primary cause of the fluctuations?

      I’m not aware of anyone at the city who has a desire to avoid dealing with Barton. By the way, Barton dam was not considered by the HRIMP committee for possible removal because it generates electricity and forms the impoundment from which we obtain most of our drinking water. (Likewise, Superior dam generates electricity and wasn’t considered for removal, nor was Geddes, which forms the impoundment which is part of the most used park in the city.) Compliance with maintenance requirements and other regulations are understood by the city and are budgeted for.

      Also by the way, in case anyone reading wasn’t aware, the Environmental Commission formed the HRIMP committee for the purpose of developing a management plan for the Huron River within the city limits. While that plan was intended to address dams and impoundments, along with numerous other aspects of the river and the challenges it faces, neither the intended focus of nor the impetus for the committee was to decide whether to keep or remove Argo dam.

    47. By a2eastsider
      September 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm | permalink

      To say that a majority in the 3rd Ward want Argo to stay based on turnout at the Primary doesn’t feel like a very strong argument to me. It seems likely that some of those who said they were in favor of keeping it were listening to candidate Kunselmen who kept saying that the dam was fine and we should leave it. Well, according to all of the documentation I have been reading here, it isn’t fine and it is going to cost quite a bit money to make safe, and then quite a bit more money to maintain. Please, take it down, spend that money elsewhere.

    48. By Joe Edwards
      September 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm | permalink

      It was Greden who said it in this month’s Ann Arbor Observer.

      According to Ed O’Neal, the millrance and the dam are separate structures. The millrace needs to be repair, the dam does not.

      Advocates for dam removal can try to link the issues, but the truth is that they are separate.

    49. By a2eastsider
      September 3, 2009 at 4:44 pm | permalink

      I wasn’t arguing about who said it, I was disagreeing with it.

      But, if the dam remains, the toe drains will need to be addressed. If the whole thing is gone, they won’t need to be fixed because they will also come out in the process, right? Or did I read that wrong. They appear to be integral to each other.

    50. By Kayaker
      September 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm | permalink

      Not to be too unpleasant, but Wally (#11) is apparently quite a fisherman, Mr Hejka is a member of the HRWC, and that’s with a one minute Google search. We each need to understand the motives of those who wish to retain or remove the dam.

      I kayak on Argo Pond quite frequently – prior to this summer, almost daily. I also interact with the rowing teams using the pond, the fishermen, and most commonly with the users of the livery. Please recognize that the removal of the dam will have a serious negative impact on those who live nearby the Pond and those who use it.

    51. By Joe Edwards
      September 5, 2009 at 10:31 am | permalink

      A2Eastsider – I believe you did read the issue wrong because I thought the same thing originally back in the spring. As I dug deeper, I discovered that Laura Rubin from HRWC, the mayor, and their allies are promoting that confusion and that has really driven me to expose what I believe to be a dishonest manipulation of the information related to the cost and benefit of removing Argo Dam.

      Ed O’Neal, whose company rebuilt the dam in 1972, has stated that the dam and millrace ARE separate. The millrace remained only to provide a portage around the dam.

      Mr. O’Neal has stated clearly that the millrace can be closed and drained, eliminating the need to repair the toe drains that MDEQ has cited. A gate to close the millrace was intentionally designed and installed because Mr. O’Neal correctly anticipated the issues that are being debated now.

      I believe a new portage can be created around the dam.

    52. September 7, 2009 at 5:56 pm | permalink

      Mr. Edwards, you are right. I recently walked along the embankment to the dam itself. If you stand near the dam facing downstream on the “left bank”, you will see a rock-covered ravine going down from near the dam to the river. That could easily be expanded and smoothed out to be a nice canoe portage.

    53. By Joe Edwards
      September 8, 2009 at 8:53 am | permalink

      In comment 51, I meant Joe O’Neal, not Ed O’Neal. Sorry Mr. O’Neal!

    54. By Wystan
      September 8, 2009 at 1:23 pm | permalink


      The pond now called Argo has been a fixture of the local landscape since 1832, when Anson Brown, erected a grist mill beside an early wooden version of the Broadway Bridge, and built the first dam to hold water back to power the mill. (Born a New Yorker, Brown started the settlement known as “Lower Town” Ann Arbor, calling Broadway and Wall Street after thoroughfares in New York City. Brown owned the mill, but was not the miller, and he died in the cholera epidemic of 1834.)

      An internet search won’t find early 19th-century references to Argo, because the pond didn’t have that name until 1892, when a group of Ann Arbor businessmen, investors in the Michigan Milling Company, took over the operation (then known as the Sinclair Mills) and rebuilt the structure that they then named the Argo Flouring Mills. The dam and pond took their name from the mills, but no one knows where that name came from. Did the mill’s golden grain suggest a comparison to the brave ship Argo of Greek myth, which bore Jason and his men in search of the Golden Fleece?

      (The Michigan Milling Company had its offices at the Central Mills on First Street, where the Blind Pig is now — and where, I’m told, a certain golden liquid flows — a beverage made from grain.)

      Through the decades, the dam was rebuilt a few times (and probably made a little higher, after the Eastern Michigan Edison Company acquired the water rights). But in a freak calamity that drew a crowd of spectators, the Argo mill exploded and burned on January 4, 1904. Firemen came, and the water that doused the flames left a white pall of icicles on the tall building’s ruined skeleton, a scene captured in dramatic photographs. The company’s plutocrat investors decided not to rebuild, and a picturesque milling era — we might call it the “Flouring of Ann Arbor” — came to an end.

      From Argo’s ashes rose the Phoenix of a new era of power generation. Within a few years, the company later known as Detroit Edison had erected a power generating station on the mill site, running its turbines and generators with water from the millrace.

      Three weeks after the mill disaster, on January 27, 1904, the Ann Arbor Railroad’s trestle collapsed, dropping a heavy freight train and its cargo onto the ice of Argo Pond. In the days that followed, parties of gawkers turned out for that spectacle too, including small boys like the late Ray Spokes, who looted water-soaked crates of Beeman’s Pepsin Gum. The inadequate early trestle — which stood close to the dam — got replaced that year with another of thick steel, on massive concrete piers, a landmark still in place.

      (That year, 1904, was a bad one at both ends: on the last day of December, the Ann Arbor High School burned to the ground.)

      Throughout the 19th century, and early decades of the 20th, winter ice was harvested on Argo Pond, and stored in great blocks in straw-lined ice houses on the Main Street riverbank. Some of the ice buildings were owned by downtown caterers like Jacob Hangsterfer, whose big emporium depended on a steady supply of ice to preserve meat, and to refresh thirsty customers at his ballroom, year ’round.

      Another enterprising German immigrant was Paul G. Tessmer, who in 1898 sold his grocery business and opened a boat livery — the “U. of M. Boat House” — on the pond’s Main Street side. By 1906, Tessmer had a stock of 160 canoes and 40 rowboats, all built by himself. He and his big family lived in a house on Sunset hill, overlooking the pond — a building that became the Elks’ Pratt Lodge. Tessmer’s docks and boathouse later were moved across the pond, to the foot of Longshore Drive, and became William J. Saunders’ canoe livery, then Jack Wirth’s, until 1969, when the Ann Arbor parks department took over.

      On moonlit evenings in June, the pond was jammed with U-M students in canoes, boys in blazers treating their sweethearts to a mandolin serenade. Around 1900, these romantics began calling the path along the headrace embankment “Lover’s Lane.” (In the 1930s and ’40s, the embankment became part of Ann Arbor’s hobo jungle.)

      One of the city’s public works projects during the Depression years was the building of a public bathing beach at the foot of Longshore Drive, where the canoe livery is now. Tons and tons of Lake Michigan white sand were hauled in and spread around, to make the beach comfortable and pretty. Repeated summer polio scares in the 1940s eventually led to its closing.

      The pond was drained in 1930, when Edison built a new dam, and again in the early 1970′s, when Joe O’Neal’s construction company built the present dam for the city — a project completed in 1972. Treasure hunters prowled the muck for artifacts, and collectors found old Ann Arbor bottles for their collections. Construction workers pulled a particularly heavy souvenir out of the mud: a set of ribbed steel wheels, from one of the boxcars that fell off the old railroad trestle in 1904!

      Argo Pond is an essential element of the history of Ann Arbor; it helps define our city’s character. In historical terms, Ann Arbor has always had that pond, has grown up around it, and would not be the same without it. Some folks commenting above have called it “stagnant,” but of course that is absurd. It is a dynamic body, as dynamic as the city itself. The waters of the Huron have flowed since time began, and they have been flowing through the pond and over the dam, ever since Ann Arbor was a tiny village in the wilderness west of Detroit.

      By all means let us maintain momentum, improve the pond’s surroundings, clear out shabby factory buildings on North Main Street, and replace them with an attractive multi-use facility, one which includes cafes and a dining terrace that overlooks trees and water. It is a view to be enjoyed in every season.

      But let us not rashly sacrifice our beloved Argo Pond, Ann Arbor’s urban waterfront. Argo is an asset, an amenity of the type that other communities long for. We should consider every means of enhancing access to it, and keeping its shining surface intact. Don’t pull the plug on Argo — don’t let it go down the drain.

      My enjoyment of the river has been passive. I haven’t been out in a boat, haven’t stopped to watch the oarsmen, never even dipped a toe in Argo Pond — but I appreciate Argo’s contribution to the quality of life in this place, and I like to see it now and then, and know that it is there. I hope that it will forever remain in the heart of our city, where it has been bubbling and rippling for 177 years.

      Wystan Stevens

    55. By KT
      September 28, 2009 at 6:07 am | permalink

      anyone know what the newly built narrow metal blue standing devices on the west side of the path along the argo pond mill race are? they are dark blue, maybe about three feet tall. yellow tape is tied on either side of the device(s).

      they look like either electrical outlets or maybe some type of ground water testing instrument? there is a latch at the top that opens but a padlock prevents you from opening it up to look.


    56. September 28, 2009 at 7:07 am | permalink

      Those blue standing devices are, indeed, testing the ground water.

      Their task is to see how well the footing drains are working.

      Getting them installed messed up the path, I understand. I also understand the path has been fixed. I’ll look forward to the results of the test — which will be public.

    57. By Dave Askins
      September 28, 2009 at 8:31 am | permalink

      They were installed on Sept. 17: link

    58. By KT
      September 28, 2009 at 8:35 pm | permalink

      Thanks Sabra,

      The path is not messed up, it’s intact. I ran by with a curiuos group Sunday morning — we stopped briefly to investigate and speculate. I figured I’d follow up here, that someone on this site would know. Voila!


    59. September 28, 2009 at 8:55 pm | permalink

      Wystan Stevens’ comment about the disasters of 1904 leads me to believe that an earlier bit of history deserves a mention.

      On Broadway at Swift, there is a marker where several Indian trails meet. In 1825, as the Potawatomi were forced out, they cursed the area. They said that nothing within sight of where the trails meet would ever prosper. And it never has. The events of 1904 provide evidence that the curse was in effect then. And the failures of Kroger’s, CVS, and the late unlamented Broadway Village shows that the “Lower Town Curse” is still working

    60. By Anon
      September 29, 2009 at 11:51 am | permalink

      I hate to pooh pooh a good curse, but I love the Northside Grill and I think they’ve been doing pretty well for a while.

    61. By Wystan
      October 20, 2009 at 11:54 am | permalink

      I have doubts about that Pottawatomi curse story. I wonder where it came from, and when? I never heard it before.

    62. By Clan
      October 21, 2009 at 11:54 am | permalink

      Good work Wystan. -cc