But from 1824 until this spring, no one had seen this half-mile section of Mill Creek near downtown Dexter. The creek was hidden beneath a twenty-acre stagnant impoundment pond filled with algae, water lilies, and invasive purple loosestrife. This year the Village of Dexter spent $270,000 to get rid of the old dam that had formed the pond.
Locally and across the nation, dam removal is a hot topic. Environmentalists say it improves the health of rivers and opens up prime habitat and spawning grounds for native fish. But removing a dam can also release polluted sediment and change drainage patterns in ways that can cause problems downstream. Taking out dams means more streams for canoeing and kayaking but fewer lakes for boating and sailing. And the cost can swamp most local budgets.
Most of Michiganís 2,500 dams are old and need major repairs. So, like Dexter, many other communities will soon have to decide whether to fix an old dam or take it out. Either way, it wonít be easy.
It certainly wasnít easy in Dexter. It took thirteen years to figure out who owned the dam, find money to remove it, deal with contaminants in the pond, and negotiate a maze of federal, state, and local regulations.