PENNINGTON, Minn. – A restoration project officials say will benefit both people and aquatic wildlife along the Mississippi River and area lakes in northwest Minnesota was officially unveiled Thursday.
The Knutson Dam Improvement Project in Pennington included the removal of the old dam and replacing it with rock-arch rapids. That will improve water flow and the habitats for fish and other aquatic species between Cass Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish.
“There are many benefits to the removal of the previous dam and the construction: directly, we’ll be able to enhance over 30 miles of the river and enhance 72,000 acres of lake habitat between Cass and Winnie,” said Darla Lenz, Chippewa National Forest Supervisor, in a speech on Thursday. “It’s vital to our local economies, vital to our aquatic ecosystems, certainly vital to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and vital to the drinking water and other benefits that are provided to the public from here to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Before the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, awards were presented to the partners of the project: the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Otter Tail Power and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“We couldn’t have done this work without our partners, and it’s really been a cooperative effort along the way,” Lenz said.
Amanda Hillman, a stream resource coordinator with the DNR, added that “funding came from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. This is our taxpayer dollars at work and they’re funding great projects like this one.”
Costs for the Knutson Dam Improvement Project total about $1.2 million.
Constructed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Knutson Dam was transferred to the Forest Service in 1926, according to the U.S. Forest Service website.
The restoration project was given the Collaborative Aquatic Stewardship Award from the U.S. Forest Service for “the significance of the project in terms of the design, the impacts but also because of the creativity in pulling together the partnerships,” Lenz said.
“It’s great to see this project happening in an area on this scale in the state of Minnesota,” said Tony Standera, fisheries specialist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the DNR. “Hopefully this will be the first of many to come.”