Grants Make Essential Dam Fixes Fiscally Feasible

By Pete Haug, PE
Dams, like any other type of infrastructure, eventually need repair, reconstruction, or modification to improve safety and extend their useful life. Dams also sometimes need to be abandoned and removed. Whether it’s making repairs or taking a dam out completely, it all costs money.

Case Study: Pigeon River Dam

Consider the Pigeon River Dam in the rural Wisconsin community of Clintonville, population 4,559. An inspection back in 2012 as part of Wisconsin’s Owner Responsible Inspection Program revealed severely deteriorated concrete surfaces on the dam. By 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered repairs be made to concrete spalls on the downstream piers and to a concrete abutment under the overhead pedestrian walkway. The City of Clintonville also knew that the dam’s leaky gates froze each winter, requiring steam heating crews to deice the three gates each spring before the big thaw.

The City of Clintonville was awarded $218,182.75 through the Wisconsin Municipal Dam Grant Program for repairs to the Pigeon River Dam.

Dam repairs are challenging, often requiring either drawing down water levels or building a cofferdam to keep water out of the work area. In construction, time is money – and the costs to prepare for and complete repairs can add up fast. Estimates for repairs to Clintonville’s dam came in at nearly a half-million dollars.

How Can Owners Pay for Dam Repairs?

Fortunately, the project was eligible to apply for a grant through Wisconsin’s Municipal Dam Grant Program. The state’s latest budget committed about $3.5 million to fund eligible engineering and construction costs associated with maintenance, repair, modification, or abandonment and removal of municipally owned dams. It’s a cost-sharing program, providing a maximum of $400,000 per project while requiring a matching amount from the municipality.
The City of Clintonville was a successful applicant for the 2018-19 program, receiving a grant of $218,182.75 for its dam repairs. That was one of the highest awards given in the state.

In 2016, Washburn County, Wisconsin, was awarded $140,000 through the Municipal Dam Grant Program to abandon the low-level outlet on its Birch Lake Dam.

A successful grant application takes time and effort. It requires such items as a resolution from the governing body of a municipality that it will pay the local share of project costs; proof of an inspection directive or administrative order that shows the need for the project; and a dam failure analysis that identifies the hazard potential of the dam. An applicant has to demonstrate the need for the project as well as its need for the funding.

Work on Clintonville’s dam repairs will begin in October, with completion expected next June. The result will be a safer dam that will serve the community well for decades – without breaking the budget.

Pete Haug is a water resources engineer with Ayres Associates and the project manager for the Clintonville dam project. The Wisconsin DNR awarded $3,493,675 through its 2018-19 Municipal Dam Grant Program; of that total, more than $1.3 million (38%) was awarded to Ayres Associates clients.

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