MEANDRS begins 12 years later

Published 1:07 am Thursday, March 16, 2006

By Staff
DOWAGIAC - After 12 years of preparation, the dredge has begun the dechannelization of the Dowagiac River at Dodd Park near Cass County's Sumnerville.
The dredge arrived on site Saturday, March 11, and is already at work to remove organic material from the old meander.
The current river channel is presently a couple of feet lower than the historic meander and some modifications will have to be made in bottom depth during the construction.
This pilot demonstration project will divert the flow of the Dowagiac River from the dredged and straightened inter-county drain back into the original meandering channel that was abandoned in 1928.
The primary goal of this diversion is to promote the restoration of many of the ecological functions lost when the river was first dredged.
Though there are many anticipated changes when the stream is connected to its floodplain, one of the most exciting is the restoration of an excellent trout fishery in the mainstream of the Dowagiac River.
Dodd Park is officially closed and will not open until about May 1. It would be appreciated if you do not enter the park at this time. If you want to view the project before the trees leaf out you have a good view from Creek Road.
MEANDRS is an acronym for Meeting the Ecological and Agricultural Needs of the Dowagiac River System.
The organization formed in 1994 with members of the Fisheries Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Intercounty Drain Board, riparian owners, Cass County Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and interested individuals.
The project is partially funded by an EPA 319 grant administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The Partnership of MEANDRS and the Cass County Conservation District share grant administration.
The initial grant for the project was awarded in 1999 and has been extended and amended several times.
In April 2001-02, a team of ecologists, hydrologists, surveyors and engineers began working with MEANDRS representatives to study existing conditions in the Dowagiac River.
The Dodd Park meander was chosen as the site of a new stream channel.
At the conclusion of studies in 2003, the construction budget exceeded the remaining grant money and alternatives to complete the project have been under review.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers was contacted and was interested in the project and agreed to work with MEANDRs and the DNR Fisheries Division.
A team was assembled to complete the preliminary analysis of the project with a budget of about $10,000.
The Corps filed a preliminary restoration plan under Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, Section 206, in February 2005 to fund the implementation of the project, which was estimated to cost between $300,000 and $350,000 and would require a $140,000 local match.
War in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina changed priorities, however, and the Corps was unable to give MEANDRS any assistance for many years.
The DNR Fisheries Division and the Parks Department of the Cass County Road Commission have been very supportive of the project.
The Fisheries equipment crew from the DNR will do some of the excavation, as well as meander and diversion construction work.
Restoration Dredging Inc. of Bloomfield Hills will hydraulically dredge out 11,000 to 13,000 cubic yards of organic matter from the old meander, which will be about 1,600 feet long, 85 feet wide and 2.25 feet deep when completed. The remaining $319 grant funds will pay for this dredging.
The project also includes pond and riffle structure construction, which will take place during late spring and summer. This will improve the habitat for fish.
The diversion of the river into the restored meander is scheduled to take place by fall after the construction of a temporary cofferdam.
Up to 600 tons of rock will be needed for riffle structures and bank stabilization of the diversion structure.
Local farmers and landowners have been asked to contact Jay Wesley if they have rocks that could be donated.
Large concrete blocks weighing 3,200 pounds each will be used to create a cofferdam weighing 3,600 pounds, so the permanent diversionary structure can be assembled.
The grant will require a local match of about $48,600. Much of this will come from rock donations, reduced costs for the cement blocks and MEANDRS volunteer labor.
The Cass County Conservation District, MEANDRS and DNR are fully committed to seeing this project through to completion.
An educational seminar will be held later in the year for professionals, government officials and interested citizens to more fully explain the project.
The project is funded by DEQ, St. Denys Foundation, Trout Unlimited, St. Joseph River Valley Fly Fishers, Partnerships for MEANDRS, Cass County Road Commission and Parks Department and DNR.
Monthly MEANDRS meetings are open to interested individuals and are usually held at the Dowagiac Conservation Club, M-51 North, at 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month.