Environmental effects of the Big Rapids dam remnant removal, Big Rapids, Michigan, 2000-02

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4136
Prepared in cooperation with the City of Big Rapids, Michigan
By: , and 



The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the city of Big Rapids, investigated the environmental effects of removal of a dam-foundation remnant and downstream cofferdam from the Muskegon River in Big Rapids, Mich. The USGS applied a multidiscipline approach, which determined the water quality, sediment character, and stream habitat before and after dam removal. Continuous water-quality data and discrete water-quality samples were collected, the movement of suspended and bed sediment were measured, changes in stream habitat were assessed, and streambed elevations were surveyed.

Analyses of water upstream and downstream from the dam showed that the dam-foundation remnant did not affect water quality. Dissolved-oxygen concentrations downstream from the dam remnant were depressed for a short period (days) during the beginning of the dam removal, in part because of that removal effort. Sediment transport from July 2000 through March 2002 was 13,800 cubic yards more at the downstream site than the upstream site. This increase in sediment represents the remobilized sediment upstream from the dam, bank erosion when the impoundment was lowered, and contributions from small tributaries between the sites.

Five habitat reaches were monitored before and after dam-remnant removal. The reaches consisted of a reference reach (A), upstream from the effects of the impoundment; the impoundment (B); and three sites below the impoundment where habitat changes were expected (C, D, and E, in downstream order). Stream-habitat assessment reaches varied in their responses to the dam-remnant removal. Reference reach A was not affected. In impoundment reach B, Great Lakes and Environmental Assessment Section (GLEAS) Procedure 51 ratings went from fair to excellent. For the three downstream reaches, reach C underwent slight habitat degradation, but ratings remained good; reach D underwent slight habitat degradation with ratings changing from excellent to good; and, in an area affected by a 1966 sediment release, reach E habitat rated fair in April 2000 and remained fair in September 2001. The most noticeable habitat change in the three reaches downstream from the dam site was a measurable increase in siltation and embeddedness.

Bed-elevation profiles show that bed material upstream from the dam site was remobilized as suspended sediment and bedload, and was redeposited in the reaches below the cofferdam. Deposition was greater in the deep, slow-moving pools than the shallow, fast-moving riffles. For the most part, where deposition took place, deposits were less than 1 foot in thickness. In the year following the removal of the cofferdam, much of the sediment deposited below the dam was moved out of the study reach.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Environmental effects of the Big Rapids dam remnant removal, Big Rapids, Michigan, 2000-02
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2003-4136
DOI 10.3133/wri034136
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Lansing, MI
Contributing office(s) Michigan Water Science Center
Description vii, 54 p.
Country United States
State Michigan
Other Geospatial Muskegon River Basin
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