Federal and state officials have temporarily canceled plans to lower a stretch of the Mississippi River near Winona. While this spring’s high water levels created concerns, the real issue was a lack of money, officials said Wednesday.
Last year, the drawdown of Pool 6 from Fountain City to Trempealeau, Wis., lowered the river to mimic water flow before the lock-and-dam system was installed about 70 years ago.
The idea was to spur the growth of riverside vegetation over two years, and a second drawdown was initially scheduled for this year.
But high water levels forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to delay some preparations, particularly a survey of the main river channel, which would help the Corps minimize impact on navigation, said Mary Stefanski, Winona district manager for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. “If they haven’t even done the surveys yet, (the drawdown is) impractical,” she said.
The Corps’ biggest reason for halting the drawdown, however, was last year’s unforeseen costs of dredging out some recreational access points, as well as labor costs of resolving complaints from area business owners, said Jeff DeZellar, project manager with the Corps’ St. Paul district.
The Corps spent about $145,000 more than expected last summer, he said.
“This decision not to go forward was made some time ago,” he said, adding that the Corps had not budgeted money this year for drawdowns.
The cancellation doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Pool 6 drawdown. Corps officials are looking for alternate forms of funding, and Stefanski said the second drawdown could eventually continue if funding is secured and river levels allow.
The continued push for the project comes because drawdowns are most successful when completed during two consecutive years, Stefanski said.
Soil flats along the riverbank are opened to sunlight in the first year, allowing plants to germinate.
The same flats are opened again the following year, allowing the plants to grow, Stefanski said.
Last year’s drawdown was not without controversy. The lowered water levels affected some area marinas. It also led some opponents to argue it caused excess floating weeds, a claim Stefanski said was unfounded.