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Think of it as a short detour around a roadblock, a barrier that’s roughly five feet tall.
Lake sturgeon, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and other fish can now use a newly constructed bypass to get around the Kletzsch Dam that, for decades, has prevented some prized game fish from swimming upstream on the Milwaukee River because the fish simply cannot jump over the dam.
Workers remove a temporary dam put in place to allow for construction of a fish passage around Kletzsch Dam on the Milwaukee River in Glendale.
Artists rendering of the fish passage around the Kletzsch Dam in Glendale, WI.
Kletzsch Dam is very popular when salmon from Lake Michigan go on spawning runs up the Milwaukee River.
Kletzsch Dam during a fall spawning run.
Beyond the dam, fish can reach higher-quality spawning, nursing, and wetland habitats in the upper reaches of the river.
Prior to this project, Kletzsch Dam was the largest remaining fish barrier on the Milwaukee River between Lake Michigan and Grafton.
Creating the passage allows fish to explore an additional 25 miles of river north of the dam, 29 miles of tributary streams that feed into the river, and 2,400 acres of wetlands – reconnecting river habitats and allowing the fish to migrate throughout the region.
Further downstream, Estabrook Falls is a partial impediment, which means that it blocks passage for a significant part of migration seasons, and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and partnering organizations are planning to implement a fish passage project to improve conditions at the Falls.
There are also plans to analyze options for improving fish passage near the former North Avenue Dam where there is concrete matting in the river channel that also creates a partial barrier.
The Kletzsch Dam Fish Passage project addresses required dam repairs and provides fish passage for native species within the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC).
The Milwaukee Estuary became an Area of Concern in the 1980s because of historical contamination and changes to the rivers, fish consumption, water quality, and wildlife habitat.
An Area of Concern is an area on the Great Lakes that has a history of significant environmental harm from human activities, preventing people and wildlife from fully using or enjoying the local waterways.
To learn more about projects specific to the Milwaukee Estuary AOC, visit The Waterway Restoration Partnership, a group of long-standing, trusted partners in the community who have been working together for years to improve water quality in the area.
With a once in a once-in-a-generation opportunity on the horizon, the organizations are formalizing their partnership and redoubling their commitment to work together to clean up the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern.
Fish passage project partners include the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Milwaukee County Parks.
Funding for the project was provided by the USEPA through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Fund for Lake Michigan, and the Milwaukee Audubon Society.