Updated: Mar 7
In December, the Michigan DNR head of fisheries, James Dexter, sent a fairly scathing diatribe against dams and dam communities to Consumers and FERC. We have prepared a rebuttal and sent it to Consumers and FERC, which you can see below or download.
When we read Mr. Dexter's rants, many of us were horrified, some of us were amused, but we were all certain that we had to respond. Essentially, Mr. Dexter argues that those of us who love dam lakes - like Lake Allegan - are silly hearts with emotional (his word) attachments to infrastructure, and that dams need to come down as the only way to help fish swim the length of the river. The problems with Mr. Dexter's arguments are that:
(a) we are living humans with a clear-eyed view of our lake and our future here; and
(b) removing the dam would unleash parasitic sea lamprey as well as sediment up and down the river and into Lake Michigan. (There are other problems, you should really read our letter).
I'd like to make a personal statement here with which many of my friends around Lake Allegan will disagree: I love and believe in government. I believe government is or ought to be a collaboration to solve common problems and make life easier for us all. And, so I'm always surprised when a government official disregards the experience, needs and testimony of the citizens he serves. It shocks my conscious.
Certainly, the people who desire clear fish passage deserve representation too; we are sympathetic to their concern for the importance of free-flowing fish. But, the consequences of deconstructing dams around the state to favor fish over people without basic civil regard for the human stakes are astonishing to us.
We can fix the problems of fish passage without crushing whole communities. Let's work together on solving these common problems to make life easier for us all.
VIA UPS & EMAIL March 7, 2023
Mr. Adam Monroe
Consumers Energy Hydro Generation
330 Chestnut Street
Cadillac, Michigan 49601 RE: Response of the Lake Allegan Association, Inc. -to- Michigan Department of Natural Resources detailed comments on Consumers Energy’s long-term Hydro Power Strategy Review
Dear Mr. Monroe:
We–the Lake Allegan Association, Inc.–have studied the comments of James L. Dexter, Fisheries Division Chief, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, delivered to you on December 29, 2022 and also provided to FERC. Here is our response.
We Understand That Dams Impact Fish
Mr. Dexter opens his letter with the assertion that the public is unfamiliar with the restrictions a dam may have on the ability of fish to swim freely. Mr. Dexter is wrong.
We live on the shores of Lake Allegan, a 1,587-acre impoundment made in 1935 by the Calkins Bridge Dam. Many of us fish and are deeply committed to the environment, the biosphere and conservation. We are acutely aware that often dams can prevent the free passage of fish through Michigan’s lakes, rivers, and other waters. That is why we as a lake association have an active committee made up of scientists, engineers and biologists–Environment and Fish Passage–devoted to the study and implementation of modern fish passage solutions at Calkins Bridge Dam.
Fish Passage Can Work
Mr. Dexter next asserts that dam removal is the only solution to ensure that fish flow freely. He is wrong.
Fish passage can be achieved with more modern, man-made solutions. Effective upstream fish passage technologies exist and continue to be developed. Technology solutions also exist for safe downstream fish passage, including turbines made by Natel Energy, Alden, and others.[i][ii] We are frankly dismayed that the Chief of the DNR Fisheries Division is either unaware of, or hardened to, the extensive progress made around the globe in fish passage technologies. His own agency serves as an advisor to the Boardman River FishPass project,[iii] working directly with Whooshh Innovations, Inc., [iv] whose modern fish passage systems have been successfully deployed at many hydroelectric dams.
To paint all dams with such a broad brush disregards both people and science. Not all dams should be removed. In fact, the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI)[v] has certified 177 hydropower dams for their minimal negative environmental impact. LIHI’s stringent criteria require dams to ensure upstream fish passage; downstream fish passage and protection; protect threatened and endangered species; protect shoreline and watershed; and preserve and provide recreational resources. The LIHI-certified dams represent a broad spectrum of dam sizes, generating capacity, and impoundment sizes. Clearly, solutions are available to address DNR’s Calkins Bridge fish-passage concerns.
Dams can be compatible with fish passage. We are disappointed that the stewards of Lake Allegan—including the DNR and its personnel entrusted with protecting and promoting diverse fisheries—have failed to require the repair or rehabilitation of the existing fish ladder at Calkins Dam. Mr. Dexter’s offhand mention of the broken fish ladder at Calkins Dam seems more like a surrender than a credible condemnation of all dams.
Most importantly, removal of Calkins Dam would potentially solve one problem but cause dozens more. Those problems would be devastating, far outweighing the single, potential benefit.
Calkins Dam Protects Against Invasive Species
Calkins Bridge Dam serves as a critical barrier to invasive species migration. Mr. Dexter mentions, but evades the gravity of, the dam’s sea lamprey barrier role. According to a consortium of government agencies,
“The sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) is a destructive, invasive species in the Great Lakes that contributed to the collapse of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and other native species in the mid-20th century and continues to impede efforts to restore and rehabilitate the fish community. Sea lamprey subsist on the blood and body fluids of large-bodied fish. It is estimated that about half of sea lamprey attacks result in the death of their prey.[vi]
Millions of dollars are invested every year in containing and killing sea lamprey so they do not wipe out substantial portions of the fish population in the Great Lakes and its tributaries. In 2017, scientists from Michigan State University studied Calkins Dam and two others in Michigan and concluded that removal of any of these dams would quickly result in a devastating increase in sea lamprey populations. Further, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission names Calkins Bridge Dam as critical to its ability to successfully control this invasive species. [vii]
We Have Much at Stake – and So Does the State of Michigan.
Mr. Dexter explains that Consumers Energy should dissuade the public from expecting that dams will remain in perpetuity because people in local communities have strong ‘emotional connections’ to ‘infrastructure developed around the dams.’
In communities across the nation, people make their homes, livelihoods, rest, and recreation around such ‘infrastructure.’ These man-made lakes buttress our own state’s very brand: Pure Michigan. Lake Allegan is 88 years old—decades in which the lake has become embedded in the hearts and estates of generations of Michiganders. We find it curious that an official entrusted with the imprimatur of a state agency would seek to talk citizens out of loving the land and water of the State of Michigan.
Emotion is not all we have at stake. Our community, and the Allegan community at large, risk significant economic consequences if the dam is removed.
Based on public tax records, the market value of Lake Allegan frontage and backlot properties is approximately $124 million, generating $2 million in property taxes in 2022. Owners of Lake Allegan-adjacent property pay 45% of Valley Township’s tax revenues.
Our analysis, drawn from a parcel-by-parcel review,[viii] shows that a 30% loss of frontage-property value, coupled with a more conservative 10% backlot value loss, would reduce annual property tax revenues by more than $500,000—of which some $338,000 would no longer go to our schools.[ix] Moreover, this loss does not include lake owners’ and users’ contributions to area businesses, which would be casualties of the economic domino effect should Calkins Bridge Dam be removed.
Lake Allegan is not the only community exposed to economic dam-removal jeopardy. We are in active dialogue with leaders from dam communities across the state. Consistently we are told that if the dams were removed, the tourism and second-homeism that support lake and pond communities would evaporate. Imagine the ripple effects of destroying a dozen local economies across Michigan. The economic ecosystems of our communities, including schools, hospitals and businesses, would collapse. The State – having broken these communities - would have to step in to fix them.
All Infrastructure–Including Calkins Bridge Dam–is Impermanent and in Need of Periodic Rehabilitation.
Mr. Dexter implies that the public needs to be taught that dams around the lake are not permanent, so we shouldn’t get too attached to them.
We recognize that Calkins Bridge Dam—and every dam—was not built to last ‘in perpetuity.’ Neither are our nation’s highways, bridges, and water treatment plants. Repair, and especially renewals that enhance utility, longevity, and efficiency comprise standard infrastructure management that rejects the throwaway approach DNR advocates for the Consumers Energy dams. Responsible infrastructure stewardship, whether over a state, a dam, a road, or a home, actively governs and extends the useful life of structures.
River Hydro is Surging
Mr. Dexter appears to view all thirteen dams as burdensome infrastructure ‘that is no longer economical’ and poses ‘impacts and risks that are no longer justifiable.’ Such a one-size-fits-all approach is short-sighted.
We are not alone in recognizing the logic of strategic investment in river hydro in lieu of its wholesale eradication.
Our federal legislators understand that investing in existing river hydro is essential to maintaining grid reliability. 2021’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act[x]signed into law by President Biden includes incentive payments to owners or operators of existing hydroelectric facilities to fund capital improvements that can increase efficiency by at least three percent. Bipartisan U.S. Senate legislation introduced in December 2022, the Maintaining and Enhancing Hydropower and River Restoration Act and the 21st Century Dam Act, [xi][xii][xiii] will support investments in fish passage, sediment management, and upgrade or replacement of floodgates and spillways.
Stanford University’s ‘Uncommon Dialogue’[xiv] group calls for rehabilitating and retrofitting dams to improve safety, increase renewable energy generation, and enhance operations for fish passage, among other outcomes. Uncommon Dialogue is a collaboration among environmental and river conservation groups, dam safety advocates, and the hydropower industry. They recognize that hydroelectric power generation is an essential component of a broad strategy for achieving reliable, affordable, renewable energy. The group does recognize that some dams should be removed if they no longer benefit society or have safety or environmental impacts that cannot be cost-effectively mitigated. None of these applies to Calkins Bridge Dam.
For yet another well-reasoned and balanced approach to dam removal, consider this passage from the most recent issue of the academic journal Fisheries Research:[xv]
Many biologists and fisheries managersin various institutions and regulatory agencies likely desire to see dam removed to facilitate the return of rivers to a natural free flowing condition. While there are likely many dams within the LS [Lake Sturgeon] range that may have outlivedtheir life expectancy, original intent, and/or usefulness, there are likely many more that continue to efficiently function to create hydropower, as well as maintain impoundments that support important recreational and commercial fisheries, important aquatic habitats, water recreation, flood control, waterfront properties and infrastructure, andlocal economies. Also, there are likely many river systems where a dam was originally placed at the site of a natural bedrock break or waterfall - which originally acted as a natural fish migration barrier – to take advantageof the natural head for hydropower production. ... Each dam needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case or context-specific basis…
At a time when renewable energy groups are calling for non-powered dams to be retrofitted for power generation, and when federal dollars are available to support enhanced efficiency of existing river hydro plants, DNR’s shut-them-all-down position seems irresponsible and behind the times.
Electricity Pricing is Too Complex to Localize Costs
Mr. Dexter suggests that dam maintenance costs should not be passed through to ratepayers because the dams generate too little power. Although we are unclear how much weight should be placed on the electricity pricing views of the DNR chief of fisheries, we are certain that Mr. Dexter’s approach is deeply flawed.
Energy rates are a complex rubric of costs, overhead, interest and assistance. The Michigan Public Utilities Commission (MPSC) constructs residential energy rates as an umbrella covering a variety of charges that begin with distribution and supply and extend to the full spectrum of activities involved in bringing power to the people.[xvi] Low-income energy assistance, nuclear plant decommissions, private power company transitions to renewable energy, and bond securitization are some of the activities whose costs MPSC amortizes inside residential energy rates. These activities occur in different pockets of the state, some that are more cost effective than others, some that affect more people than others. But these costs are shared across the broad population. Michigan’s residential electricity rates are not and cannot be based merely on a cost/benefit analysis that considers only the scope and scale of a utility’s power-generating assets. We find it notable that the costs of river hydro – a primarily rural phenomenon – should be excluded from all the other activities that we Michiganders should share. In any event, Mr. Dexter’s approach to energy rates envisions a model that does not reflect how energy rates are actually determined in a modern Michigan.
Mr. Dexter omits from his rate discussion the toxic costs from coal, oil, and gas—a price we all pay in higher health costs and environmental cleanup. Hydroelectric dams do not impose the same externalized costs, because they don’t belch CO2 into the atmosphere. Under Mr. Dexter’s rate model, we all shoulder these very real costs; they just don’t show up on our monthly electric bill so somehow they do not count.
Finally, Mr. Dexter’s pricing philosophy ignores and poses a powerful disincentive to the alternate approach, which is to invest in plant upgrades and technology enhancements that can render even aging hydro operations more productive and more cost-effective.
We would encourage Mr. Dexter and DNR to lobby MPSC to change its rate-setting approach. MPSC could incentivize river hydro investment aimed at increasing efficiency and grid resilience—generating cleaner and greener power than other sources—while requiring operators to also achieve performance metrics related to fish passage, water quality, and recreational access.
Under the current cost-of-service rate regulation, as applied by MPSC, investments in river hydro plants—even FERC-mandated safety outlays—have been largely excluded on the premise they benefit only ratepayers in the dams’ narrowly defined geographic footprints.[xvii] A performance-based rate-setting approach, which MPSC is already evaluating, [xviii] would be better suited to attaining many of the natural resources goals DNR champions. [xix]
Calkins Dam Is Here to Stay
We are not naïve. We know that some dams pose a threat to public safety, have outlived their utility, and should be dismantled. Calkins Dam is not that.
Calkins Bridge is rated a low-hazard dam with no safety issues that we have identified in public regulatory filings. The dam’s environmental impact is clearly positive: it prevents Lake Allegan’s embedded PCBs from flowing downstream. In its Superfund oversight role, EPA recently approved a PCB-remediation feasibility study of Lake Allegan.[xx] The study will include evaluating monitored natural recovery (MNR) among other remediation alternatives. Earlier testing suggests MNR is already well underway. If approved as part of the final remediation program, MNR would reduce cleanup costs by many multiples. Moreover, this approach would over time permit lake fish consumption without triggering a lake-removal economic domino effect that would devastate our community.
Lake Allegan is also home to hundreds of people who contribute financially, morally, spiritually, and materially to the state and the region. Thousands of people visit Lake Allegan to fish, swim, boat and play. Lake Allegan is beautiful and loved, even if man-made, even if mildly polluted, even if imperfect. We are committed to this land and water. Lake Allegan is here to stay.
Lake Allegan Association, Inc. Must Have a Seat at the Table.
Mr. Dexter does make a comment on which we agree. He expresses his concern about the future stewardship of Calkins Bridge Dam if Consumers Energy surrenders its license and transfers the property to a new owner. Mr. Dexter states that any transferee must have sufficient financial resources and technical capabilities to ensure the dam’s long-term safety, and to cover safety and maintenance needs. He notes that insurance and other financial mechanisms, plus top-quality, diligent, and well-funded monitoring and maintenance, are crucial.
We agree. Frankly, we will be surprised if Consumers abandons river hydro at Calkins Dam. And, we take the people of Consumers Energy at their word that they intend to be responsible and faithful to the community surrounding Lake Allegan. We are open and optimistic about Lake Allegan’s future. But we do require that Lake Allegan remain a lake, that it continue to improve in quality and cleanliness, that the dam remain safe and well maintained, and that we play an active role in its future.
We look forward to continued engagement with Consumers Energy.
If you have questions about our position or the information included herein, I can be reached at email@example.com.
President, Lake Allegan Association, Inc. www.lakeallegan.org
cc: Mr. James L. Dexter, Michigan DNR
Mr. Josh Burgett, Consumers Energy
Mr. David Mcintosh, Consumers Energy
Ms. Maggie Pallone, Public Sector Consultants
Ms. Elizabeth Riggs, Public Sector Consultants
Mr. Todd Grischke, Michigan DNR
Mr. Patrick Ertel, Michigan DNR
Dr. Michael Siefkes, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Daniel Eichinger, Acting Director, EGLE
Dan Scripps, Tremaine Phillips, & Katherine Peretick, Commissioners, MPSC
[i]Natel Energy. Our Technology: The Restoration Hydro Turbine (RHT) is designed to be the most fish-safe, high-performance, compact turbine in the world, reducing permitting and installation costs, while supporting downstream fish passage. https://www.natelenergy.com/ [ii] Olbertz, Niklas. Sustainable hydro-power plants with focus on fish-friendly turbine design. EGU Journal of Renewable Energy Short Reviews, 2021. https://www.hb.fh-muenster.de/opus4/files/13687/13_Olbertz_EGUJRenEnRev_2021.pdf [iii] Great Lakes Fishery Commission, FishPass. http://www.glfc.org/fishpass.php [iv] Whooshh Innovations, Inc. Our Innovations Might Just Be Your Solutions, Fish Passage. https://www.whooshh.com/Our-Innovations/products [v] Some states utilize the LIHI Certification Program in determining hydropower eligibility for Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) inclusion and compliance. [vi] Sea Lamprey Control in the Great Lakes 2021. Mike Steeves Fisheries and Oceans Canada Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Jessica Barber United States Fish and Wildlife Service Marquette, Michigan [vii] Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Letter to Mr. Josh Burgett, Executive Director, Community Engagement & Corporate Citizenship, CMS Energy Corporation, dated 12-28-2022. Letter conveys GLFC’s position regarding the role of Consumers Energy’s hydro dams in the control of invasive sea lamprey. Letter available to the public at https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/search , using the accession search tool and accession number 20230109-5084. [viii] Lake Allegan Association, Inc. Property tax analysis drawn from Allegan County Parcel Viewer, https://gis.allegancounty.org/portal_webadaptor/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2ec1c68c8edc4ef595f41cc10596f3eb using county tax levy and millage data available at https://www.allegancounty.org/home/showpublisheddocument/9990/638042733115700000. Analysis information: contact firstname.lastname@example.org [ix] Our estimate of a 30% loss in value is supported by a 2013 U.S. Department of the Interior study of real property on the Klamath River (Oregon and California) which posited that dam removals would reduce the affected properties’ values by some 30%. The Klamath River study most closely resembles Lake Allegan owners’ at-risk properties. [x] U.S. Department of Energy. Biden Administration Launches $630 Million in Programs to Modernize Nation's Hydropower Fleet. June 30, 2022. https://www.energy.gov/articles/biden-administration-launches-630-million-programs-modernize-nations-hydropower-fleet [xi] U.S. Department of Energy, Grid Deployment Office. Hydroelectric Incentives Funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. https://www.energy.gov/gdo/hydro [xii] Congress.gov. S.2306 - Maintaining and Enhancing Hydroelectricity and River Restoration Act of 2021, 117th Congress (2021-2022).https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2306?overview=closed [xiii] United States Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski. Cantwell, Murkowski Bill Would Spur Hydropower Upgrades, Restore Free Flowing Rivers. Press release dated 12-09-22. https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/press/release/cantwell-murkowski-bill-would-spur-hydropower-upgrades-restore-free-flowing-rivers-#:~:text=The%20Maintaining%20and%20Enhancing%20Hydroelectricity,at%20our%20nation's%20hydropower%20dams. [xiv] https://woods.stanford.edu/research/hydropower/hydropower-ucd-overview [xv] Bruch, Ronald M. and Haxton, Tim J, Cost and relative effectiveness of Lake Sturgeon passage systems in the US and Canada. Fisheries Research Volume 257, January 2023. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165783622002879?via%3Dihub . [xvi] Residential Energy Bill Charges (a publication of the MPSC). Available at https://www.michigan.gov/-/media/Project/Websites/mpsc/consumer/info/tips/electric_residential_bill_charges_final.pdf?rev=e80ef0b163614800b1d8910b9e781775. [xvii] Michigan Public Service Commission. Rate case U-21224. See the 2-28-2022 direct testimony of Adam J. Monroe of Consumers Energy, describing investments the company deems needed to ensure safe and reliable operation of its hydro facilities, including those required by FERC. Available at: Torrey_TE_ERC.docx (force.com).Then see the 8-24-2022 direct testimony of Jonathan J. DeCooman of MPSC, in the same rate case, where he finds those investments to be ineligible for collection from ratepayers. Available at: 0688y000003yBzXAAU (force.com). [xviii] Michigan Public Service Commission, Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Report on the Study of Performance-Based Regulation. Prepared in compliance with Act 341 of 2016. Available at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mpsc/MI_PBR_Report_Final_621112_7.pdf [xix] Rocky Mountain Institute / RMI. States Move Swiftly on Performance-Based Regulation to Achieve Policy Priorities. March 31, 2022. https://rmi.org/states-move-swiftly-on-performance-based-regulation-to-achieve-policy-priorities/ (RMI is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works to transform global energy systems across the real economy.) [xx] Area 6 Supplemental Remediation Investigation/ Feasibility Study (SRI/FS) Work Plan for the Allied Paper, Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Site, Operable Unit 5 (OU 5). Submitted June 21, 2002 to James Saric, Remedial Project Manager, USEPA Region 5. See also Mr. Saric’s letter approving the SRI as submitted. Both documents are available at https://foiaonline.gov/foiaonline/action/public/submissionDetails?trackingNumber=EPA-R5-2023-000456&type=Request