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Exploring the Process for Successful Dam Removal or Modification

In recent years we’ve learned a great deal about the adverse impacts of dam removal & modification on river ecosystems and neighboring communities. Now that there are a variety of non-structural alternatives for power generation, flood management, and water storage, the value of dams are being questioned.

With many dams in need of substantial repair due to aging or lack of funding for maintenance needs, many communities, dam owners, and agencies are researching dam removal and modification. However, maximizing and achieving the benefits of dam removal takes more than environmental and civil engineering. It requires strong partnerships with state and federal agencies, local governments, contractors, property owners, and other stakeholders. Listens in as our experts guide you through the steps to embarking on a dam removal project and outline client success stories to assist in your benefit-cost analysis.

Presented by: Nichoel Church & Jeff Walters

Webinar Agenda

  • Why Remove or Modify Dams? (1:54)
  • Recreation Opportunities (6:52)
  • Environmental & Water Quality Benefits (12:50)
  • In-Stream Structures (13:56)
  • Dam Modification Benefits (16:19)
  • Spillway Modification (19:49)
  • Public Education and Outreach (21:19)
  • Funding Assistance (23:20)
  • Squaw Creek Modification (36:13)
  • Mitigation Banking – Little Dam (37:11)
  • Mitigation Banking – Hydroelectric Dam (37:46)
  • Regulatory Coordination and Permitting (40:34)
  • Navigating the Permitting Process (45:23)

 

Maximizing the Benefits of Dam Removal or Modification

Christy Ortmann:
Hello and welcome to the Webinar, exploring the benefits of dam removal and dam modification. My name is Christy Ortmann, and I’m the Communications Manager with Snyder and Associates, and I will be your moderator for today’s program. This program is approximately 45 minutes long and includes participation opportunities via polling and submitting questions. If you have questions at any time during the presentation, simply type them in the chatbox that’s located on the lower right corner of your screen and go ahead and press enter to submit them at any time. Your questions will not be viewable by other attendees, so again, feel free to submit them at any time. Don’t wait for a pause within the presentation. The presenters today are Jeff Walters and Nichoel Church, both with Snyder and Associates. Jeff is the Environmental Science Group Leader, and Nichoel is an Environmental Scientist within Jeff’s group. Both Jeff and Nichoel were born and raised in Iowa river towns that were close to large dams, providing them with a personal connection to today’s topic. Together, they have nearly 30 years of environmental experience and have worked successfully on a few dam removal and dam modification projects. This makes them uniquely qualified to lead today’s presentation. So with that, we’re going to go ahead and kick off the presentation with our first polling question that hopefully, you will see here shortly. And we just wanted to poll and have you participate along with us by filling out what is the classification of your dam. If you can go ahead and select your answer from the multiple-choice listing and press enter at your convenience.

Nichoel Church:
So it appears that the options we have for them are pond dam, low-head dam, hydroelectric dam, and an outflow structure such as spillway.

Why Remove or Modify Dams? (1:54)

Jeff Walters:
All sorts of dams we find in Iowa, in the Midwest. All dams that communities and private entities are looking to remove. And so just kick right in; why do we remove or modify dams? There’s a multitude of reasons, and none of them are really wrong. We are looking for benefits for safety environmental benefits. We want to help reduce costs. These dams may have been sitting around for a long time. They require a level of maintenance because there’s material backing up to them. Tree, debris, and all sorts of stuff get stuck behind these dams and cause problems to the river and to the watershed, and then we want to reduce that failure potential, and ultimately we’re restoring that natural resource by restoring the floodplains.

Christy Ortmann:
At this time, it looks like no one has been willing to participate in our polling. I see that several people are on, but I guess we’ll just move on if people don’t want to participate. We can’t make you.

Nichoel Church:
We already talked about several reasons why we remove dams or modify them, and a popular reason is safety. As we’re all aware of dams, pose a safety hazard to humans. They can create cyclic currents that recycle, and unfortunately when we are near that cyclic current, we just can’t get out. It just pulls us under. Safety is oftentimes a great concern and often a popular reason to remove dams. As we’ve seen with several of our dam removals, such as Squaw Creek and Fort Dodge, very popular reasons why, but those projects are interesting cause it definitely wasn’t the reason why we began those projects.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, that’s right, up in Ames, that was a FEMA-funded project, and we were trying to protect infrastructure, and as many communities have infrastructure that runs underneath a river…

Nichoel Church:
And that happened to be water supply…

Jeff Walters:
Right! Yeah, that was a water supply line up in Ames. If that were to be breached, a good chunk of Ames would have lost water. So we worked with FEMA, and we’ll talk about some funding assistance programs later on. But the primary focus was infrastructure, and it quickly became an infrastructure and safety issue when two kayakers nearly drowned when they went over the dam. So that primary reason, maybe one issue, but there’s those other safety issues, environmental issues that quickly come to the forefront. They all just kind of work in harmony with each other.

Nichoel Church:
Again in Fort Dodge, we had a 26-year-old kayaker who lost his life at the hydroelectric dam when his kayak capsized… the hydroelectric dam was a little bit different compared to squaw creek because this is not a low-head dam. It generated hydroelectricity for a period of time within the city of Fort Dodge, but it was no longer functioning. It was no longer providing that service to the city. When the city decided that they wanted to remove the dam, they had also thought about restoring it.

Jeff Walters:
Right! Yeah. The city looked at a multitude of options just as all communities probably are looking at with their dams where it’s an old site, it may have had its use, it’s lost its function. You know, maybe you want to make it into a kayaking facility for recreational benefits or maybe you just want to have additional trail space, water trail space or like Fort Dodge, they initially looked at that site for re-powering. It just wasn’t a good benefit. It didn’t bring back enough revenue for the community when they were looking to repower it. So as you know, their initial benefit was repowering, then it became maintenance, and then they all kind of morph together. And with the City of Fort Dodge, the City of Ames, and other communities, that initial core group of city staff was interested in what they could do, and oftentimes we have to get out in front of the community and see what their expectations are within the community, what do citizens want? These dams have been in place for a long time. A lot of people are used to them. They like to fish around them. They like to play around them. Safe or not, the people will still try to go across them but getting out in front of the community in front of the citizens is an important component to dam removal especially early on, without their feedback, city staff, council, mayor, or county supervisors and representatives will have a lot of push back if the community doesn’t get behind this project.

Recreation Opportunities (6:52)

Nichoel Church:
So as far as recreation, we’ve already talked about kayaking and in-water recreation, but there’s also the angling community to think about.

Jeff Walters:
Oh, definitely. Yeah. Again, with Fort Dodge, there was a very strong presence early on when we were working on their Comprehensive Plan and Riverfront Plan, and anglers from all over central Iowa use the Des Moines River, especially up there for angling purposes, and it took a lot of community outreach, a lot of work to get all these groups together. The fishing community was, you know, they were frankly upset. They didn’t want to see this dam go, and we see that in a lot of communities where there’s a strong angling population. There’s good fishing. There’s good access around the dams,

Nichoel Church:
A lot of nostalgia.

Jeff Walters:
A lot of nostalgia. Yeah! Generations of people like to fish in those areas. So they were very torn about the issue. They understand the safety, but we’re taking away something that’s near and dear to them, and that’s fishing. So a lot of education goes into that community outreach component. And we brought in the state and federal agencies, particularly the Iowa DNR, to talk to the angling communities and the angling communities understood that the greater need really outweighed what they wanted, and down the road, we were going to have the opportunity to create new fishing spots.

Nichoel Church:
Right, and that’s just it, these anglers, fishermen, can now fish areas of the Des Moines River that they just couldn’t before.

Jeff Walters:
Right, and there’s the opportunity for new fish species.

Nichoel Church:
That’s right.

Jeff Walters:
Where you were just catching carp and a few catfish, now you have the opportunity for some big river fish. You can get some walleye in there. You get northern pike, all sorts of good species that are going to move up and down these rivers, and the Iowa DNR will back that up where they’ve done fish studies, and they’ve seen species in new locations that they haven’t seen in, you know, 50 years of their surveys.

Christy Ortmann:
I wanted to share that the pool was actually my fault that it didn’t go through, but we did get results in that 40% have pond dams, 40% hydroelectric, and then 20% have lake outflow. There was no low head. I just wanted to make sure that you guys got those results in case you wanted to address things differently based on that information.

Nichoel Church:
When we classified Pond Dams on the slide, I mean that’s kind of an open-ended dam outside of a low head dam or hydroelectric dam. That could be a farm pond dam, that could be a dam on an intermittent channel that’s lower flow or intermediate flow. They’re definitely out there. The majority of them are privately owned, which is important because then the decision to remove those dams isn’t up to a community. It’s up to a private landowner.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, good point. Thank you for the feedback.

Nichoel Church:
Thank you. I’m not sure at this time if we have any questions.

Timelines for Dam Removal or Modification

Christy Ortmann:
Yeah, we did get one, and then I just sent out a chat letting people know that they could send in any additional questions that they had. But the one that did come in was how long does dam modification or removal take?

Nichoel Church:
That’s a great question, and it varies significantly depending on the type of dam that you have, who owns it, and the size. There’s a lot of permitting that’s involved early on in community outreach, which is required or at least beneficial for larger dams in communities around them. Our process for squaw creek was what?

Jeff Walters: 
It was a few years since there was federal agency involvement because of the funding component. There was a lengthier review process. Other projects, if it’s a small privately-owned dam that they just want to restore channel, It could be a year once you get through some design and your permitting process with the regulatory agencies, like the Corps of Engineers and Iowa department natural resources. So you could look at a range between one and five years depending on the complexity of the dam and the watershed.

Nichoel Church:
…and funding, resources, and who’s involved. It’s really dependent on the size, the type, and who owns it.

Christy Ortmann:
I went ahead and shared our next polling question, which was about which dam removal outcome do you view as having the greatest benefit in relation to your dam, and pretty much across the board, the responses were besides restoring natural buffers, it seems like everybody is interested in water flow, fish migration, and streambank stabilization.

Nichoel Church:
In streambank stabilization, you don’t have to have a dam to need streambank stabilization, but you definitely get the high velocities moving through there which can erode your banks. Vegetation doesn’t have a chance to establish.

Jeff Walters:
Right, yeah, once you remove that bank, you’re going to have a period of time where mother nature needs to balance itself out. Those stream banks need to restabilize, some of that is going to occur naturally, some of that’s going to occur through our engineering design process, but we don’t want to make that system worse by just tearing out a dam and not thinking about stream banks

Nichoel Church:
…and fish migration will happen with dam removal, which is a great benefit, especially for the angling community. Oftentimes, as we’ve just talked about, they just don’t think about fishing and other areas that they weren’t able to fish in before. We’ve got to restore inflow, naturalizing the sediment deposition within the river or the stream, and reduce velocities downstream.

Environmental & Water Quality Benefits (12:50)

Jeff Walters:
Which I think you’ve really just segwayed into the environmental and water quality benefits. That polling question is really about the environmental benefits and we want to make sure that when we remove that dam, we don’t make that system worse.

Nichoel Church: 
Exactly.

Jeff Walters:
So, there are a lot of great benefits. Go ahead Nichoel …

Nichoel Church:
A lot of times, especially with larger dams like the hydroelectric dam, and since we have some folks on the webinar that have hydroelectric dams or at least live nearby one, something that doesn’t get that much attention is buffers. When that dam is taken out, and the river has a chance to naturalize additional buffer, which is essentially it’s just the riparian zone along the stream. It has a chance to increase in size because the channel decreases in width it exposes new banks, which is a new shoreline for you to access the stream. That’s the recreation in and of itself right there. Just getting access, even if you don’t have a trail nearby, allowing the public to access the stream in a new capacity is very beneficial to these communities.

In-Stream Structures (13:56)

Jeff Walters:
Well, let’s talk about that for a little bit as we go to the next slide where we’ve removed the dam, or we’re going to remove a dam, we know we’ve got bank stabilization, but we have some other opportunities for some in-stream structures. One of the more popular structures right now, especially with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is a j hook or a hook within the river. And that is just simply a large rock structure that’s jetting out from the stream bank and has a certain angle to it. It helps reduce velocities. It gives the opportunity for people to get out into the water, whether they’re fishing or playing. It’s just a nice, relatively easy access to step out and enjoy the river without feeling unsafe.

Nichoel Church: 
Exactly! It also creates a nice little fishing spot right there by the area where the water has a chance to slow down. So the flows are concentrated towards the center of the channel, which is perfect because fish can spawn, and they have beds in the area along the shore where it’s stable, and the water is not stagnant, but it’s definitely moving a lot slower. It deflects the flow away from the bank, which provides additional stabilization, and it’s also safer. With the slower flow, fishermen can step out on those rocks, and they can enjoy an afternoon in the river.

Jeff Walters:
In a lot of cases, there’s the opportunity to have multiple structures where you may have a j hook and you may have some other in-stream structures like jetties that work up and downstream or rock arch rapids, which allow, not only for fishing benefits but that recreational benefit for kayakers to get a little flavor of whitewater here in Iowa without going out to the rocky mountains. It’s kind of a fun thing.

Nichoel Church: 
While recreation is a huge benefit from these in-stream structures, it also benefits the stream and the environment. They increase oxygen flow through that channel. Since the dam isn’t there anymore, you have an increase in water temperature. Sunlights are allowed to penetrate to the bottom or at least the edges of the channel, which can promote vegetation growth, which is beneficial for those fish and in-river species as well.

Dam Modification Benefits (16:19)

Jeff Walters:
And if you’re not looking for full removal, there’s still great benefit to just partially removing or modifying the dam. There are times when it’s just not financially feasible to remove the whole dam, or there are components of the dam that are needed to stay in place to help with some stabilization of the stream bank or the channel itself. When we were working in Ames, we looked at an initial full removal, and it just didn’t work. The design wasn’t acceptable. It was causing problems where we had the potential to still impact or have a problem with the waterline that was going across the river. So instead of abandoning the project, we looked at that modification and that turned out to be a wonderful recreational and environmental benefit where people can get into that river or the stream and feel safe. The flows are easier for both humans and the environment. We have much clearer water than before. It was not the greatest-looking stream. And now you can see down in the bottom. You can see the riffle structures within the channel.

Nichoel Church:
That’s right. It also gave the city an opportunity to add additional floodplain benches to stabilize the shoreline and to stabilize the channel bed, which is what the purpose of the project was, to protect water supply infrastructure.

Jeff Walters:
In this project, like so many other projects within the city limits don’t afford you a lot of opportunities to work outside the confines of the river. So utilizing that space up and downstream from a dam for modification and or removal, you have to think about what you’re going to do. You also have to think about both the short term and those long term benefits, adding floodplain benches, adding good vegetation to stabilize those slopes that when we have a higher rain event, we don’t cause more problems downstream than when we have the dam.

Nichoel Church:
Exactly.

Christy Ortmann:
Before you guys move on, because you already discussed some reuse options, there were questions and a comment about dam material that’s removed being repurposed or reused. There was a couple of examples that were also included in here. Do you guys want to talk about that a little bit more?

Nichoel Church:
Dam material that’s removed, as long as it’s cleaned if it got rebar the rebars removed, it can be repurposed, which is important. Both, cost savings for the owner of the dam as well as the benefit to the river. So from a cost-savings aspect, you don’t have to haul any additional material. You can reuse the material from the dam and repurpose it. You also don’t have to haul that material away.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, and it could be used for bank stabilization. It can be used for those in river structures. The important component was making sure when that dam is being deconstructed, the contractor is breaking it down, so you have good-sized material.

Nichoel Church:
That’s very important.

Jeff Walters:
If it’s too small, it is just going to wash downstream. If it’s too big, it makes it very difficult for contractors to move and just becomes more costly.

Nichoel Church:
Right, and that’s important too. Sometimes it’s just not salvageable. If you have a dam that’s full of rebar, for example, Little Dam within the city of Fort Dodge, we thought maybe we would be able to repurpose a little bit of that dam, and we just couldn’t.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, it wasn’t used in the river, but they still were able to repurpose that for other upland uses.

Nichoel Church:
It was broken up too small to be placed in the river, but they could use it elsewhere.

Jeff Walters:
That’s a good question/comment.

Spillway Modification (19:49)

Jeff Walters:
Spillways are often considered dams. They are classified as a dam in terms of DNR and…

Nichoel Church:
Well, that’s important. Dams aren’t just located on rivers. They’re also on ponds and on lakes.

Jeff Walters:
So a spillway has its function. It is holding back water much like a dam. But…

Nichoel Church:
…It needs to outflow.

Jeff Walters:
It needs to outflow, yeah. We need constant movement over that spillway. So we had a unique situation here in Easter Lake in Des Moines, Iowa, where we couldn’t remove the spillway. Otherwise, we would have no lake. But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was concerned about species invasion, and species retention, and the existing spillway just wasn’t cutting it. So there had to be a design to make sure that invasive species such as Asian carp couldn’t get up into the lake. But we also want to make sure that species such as largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish that were in the lake weren’t leaving the lake.

Nichoel Church:
That’s right. The solution to that at Easter Lake was they put up a barrier for the desirable species to stay, so they couldn’t jump out and pass over the spillway. They also put in a gate structure essentially, but it blocked additional species from trying to jump into the lake, which was important.

Jeff Walters:
It is just one of those things where we had to come up with some unique solutions to make sure the right fish stayed in, and the right fish don’t go out.

Public Education and Outreach (21:19)

Jeff Walters:
In all these examples, we talked about a little bit of community outreach. That process needs to start early. In order to do that, we want to work with city councils, mayors, and supervisors, especially if they’re revamping Comprehensive Plans or they have Master Plans that identify these issues. Back in 2015, when we were working with the city of Fort Dodge, it just happened to be on a Riverfront Master Plan and in parallel was their Comprehensive Plan, and we identified the dams as a potential barrier for future development and future land use. And as we went out and engaged the community, they agreed, and those plans were adopted. There was an opportunity for some state funding, and we looked at those opportunities, we continued to move forward, and we looked at Mitigation Banking opportunities. Then a year later, we had a couple of other projects that had opportunities for community engagement and funding potential. Eventually, here late in 2018/2019, we got one dam removed, and we’re working on a second one. So all throughout that process, we made sure the community was involved, and it was very important to that city. It was very important to us because without their thoughts, their presence, and their buy-in into this project, we just weren’t going to get anywhere.

Nichoel Church:
Not only that, but the city had to take out a bond to remove the dams. I know we’re going to get to funding opportunities later on, but it’s important for cities, you know, if you have your constituent showing up at city council, not allowing you to pass a bond to remove the dam, it’s very important that they, like you said, that they have that buy-in. That the community is aware of the process and what will happen and how it will affect their river or their stream or their lake.

Funding Assistance (23:20)

Jeff Walters:
Well, let’s talk about funding. There are a lot of opportunities for funding.

Christy Ortmann:
I went ahead and put the poll out there since it directly relates to this. Who owns or controls?

Jeff Walters:
Ultimately, if you are a city, you have bonding capacities, and you have buy-in with the community, but there are lots of different funding assistance that both the public and private can access.

Nichoel Church:
Not only is it important to know who has control of your dam so you can acquire the appropriate funding or apply for the appropriate funding. But it also helps with the process of removal, it helps with permitting, it helps with the consultant helping you, or if you’re private, it helps you decide who do you need to talk to which agencies need to be involved. When you’re accessing funding, are you applying for several funding opportunities, and maybe you’re not allowed to use one with another one…

Jeff Walters:
…or maybe there’s a layering effect where you went after some state funding, and then you decided to go after some fish and wildlife service, or Corp of Engineers funding, and the state process is relatively straightforward, and they have their purview, and they know how they want to use those funds to remove the dam. But that federal agency may add one or more layers of red tape. You may have to go through the NEPA process. You might have to tack on a year or two or three.

Nichoel Church:
…and additional funding for the project.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, much like our FEMA project in Ames where, you know, great money. I mean, it was readily available for us, but it just took more time. And if you are a community that is willing and has the time to use those funds, to access those funds, and are willing to go through that process, the money is there for you. Whether it’s EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, FEMA, the funding buckets can really vary in the range too. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has some low head dam mitigation funds that vary from year to year, but they can be $25,000 to maybe $100,000 a year. If you happen to be a community that utilizes SRF, you can tap into the clean water SRF funding. Granted you can’t necessarily use clean water SRF funds with certain other funding mechanisms like a mitigation bank, but you’re entitled to up to 10% of the amount of the loan that you have with SRF. For some communities, especially if they have very large wastewater treatment programs, that can be a very large amount of money.

Nichoel Church:
And a lot of times, the funding assistance might come with additional monitoring. It might require additional documentation on the backend. So you’ve received the funding, you’ve removed your dam, and now you have to monitor your river for ten years, or now you have to, if it’s Corps of Engineers section 206, it might take ten years just to remove the dam because they have to go through their own process internally. So it really just depends. If you want your dam removed quickly, you have to consider funding assistance that will allow you to do that. If you don’t mind, if it takes ten years, then you’re open to pretty much everything.

Christy Ortmann:
Just to give you guys the results of the poll, it looks like about 50% of people “don’t know.” Then it was split between “municipality” and “utility.” So kind of what we thought in anticipation of this.

Jeff Walters:
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Corps of Engineers have a database that we access that provides us with ownership. There are definitely gaps in there from who owns it or who thinks they own their dam, which can be an issue. And then there are probably hundreds of dams that are very, very small in size that are likely privately owned that don’t show up on this database.

Nichoel Church:
Well, the information just isn’t there because it’s on private property.

Jeff Walters:
Right. Yeah, someone just built a dam and has a small farm pond.

How Ownership Affects Funding

Christy Ortmann:
How does that affect funding? That was one of the questions that came in based on ownership. How does that change what is available?

Nichoel Church:
Private landowners can still access EPA funding. They can still access Fish and Wildlife Service funding. There are several assistance options available if the dam is privately owned. If it is a farmed pond, the Iowa Department of Agricultural Land Stewardship offers funding assistance. The NRCS offers funding assistance. With IDALS, you could contact your sole water conservation district and see if they would offer funding assistance for water quality benefits. There are just so many opportunities for funding if it’s a privately owned dam, whether it’s on an intermittent channel or a pond.

Jeff Walters:
Not that it’s a bad thing, but funding assistance usually comes with a laundry list of water quality monitoring or visual assessments vegetation assessments, which is all great because likely your goal is some sort of water quality improvement or stabilization. So it’s good to follow up once you’ve completed that project. But you want to be aware of any of those catches that might come on the backend of the funding assistance before you dedicate time and resources to go after that funding.

Nichoel Church:
It doesn’t matter if the funding is acquired. It doesn’t matter if the EPA completes their own survey or Fish and Wildlife completes their own survey or if the landowner completes the survey. It should be listed with the funding assistance, who is going to be completing the documentation and how often, if it’s annual, bi-annual, if the private landowner can complete it, if EPA wants to complete their own or hire a consultant to do that, that would all be laid out in front so you would know what is expected with acquiring that funding.

Snyders Role in Funding Assistance

Christy Ortmann:
Which segways nicely into one of the questions that we had come up with about how can Snyder specifically help with the funding, either documentation that’s necessary or recommendation.

Jeff Walters:
Sure. It’s great to get in early so that we can understand why you want to remove or modify a dam. Because those whys really play a role in funding assistance. While the Corps of Engineers, SRF, Fish, and Wildlife Service understand that safety is important, that’s not their purview. They’re interested in saving lives, but their goal is an improvement to the environment. So we want to help craft that information so that when we can submit applications on the city’s or municipality’s behalf or private landowner for that matter, the answers and the information we provide to a specific regulatory agency is geared to what they are looking for.

Nichoel Church:
That’s true. It really helps to understand the agency’s perspective. Why are they offering this funding assistance? What do they get from it? Unfortunately, the state and the federal government just doesn’t have funding to give out for saving lives. If that was the number one reason that funding was available for everyone would apply for it because we know that that’s a benefit of removing a dam. But a lot of times, the EPA wants to understand, they want to collect the data. They want to have an understanding of the benefit of removing the dam from an environmental water quality perspective. Corps of Engineers probably wouldn’t require so much water quality as they would require stabilization monitoring. Same for Fish and Wildlife Service, you’re going to have habitat surveys and fishing surveys done, probably completed by the DNR, but they might require an outside party, like a consultant, to do that survey. It really just depends on the funding assistance, and we would definitely help you describe to whoever we’re asking money from, why we are requesting it, and how this would benefit them. That’s very important.

Jeff Walters:
Good question.

Ease and Availability of Funding Sources

Christy Ortmann:
Before we move on, I had one more question that came through that was about your experience with funding sources. Which ones do you feel are easier or more readily available? There was a couple of different variations of being asked that specifically about ones that were popular, readily available, and specifically, our experience working through that.

Jeff Walters: 
The money is very competitive, and it’s competitive, not only because a lot of people are applying for it, but those funding pots vary from year to year. At the state level with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, they’re allocated different amounts of money each year for low head modification and removals. They also have a couple of other programs, but there is an application process, an approval process, and a selection process. It can be very, very competitive.

Nichoel Church:
Not only is it competitive, but funding is always limited. So annually, when the fiscal year budgets come out, we are on top of those grant opportunities or funding assistance opportunities for our projects. But we have to know that the projects are there. We don’t always keep tabs on funding assistance available if we don’t have a project. So we’re very much interested in talking to not only just the agencies, but we also have several employees that go out to Washington D.C. every year and lobby for additional funding. It’s very important for us and our clients to get the maximum amount of benefit that they can and assistance that they can. So with that effort, we are always willing to go above and beyond for our clients. It’s just we have to know that that project is there.

Christy Ortmann:
We had somebody ask specifically not to take you off track from that question because obviously several people asked that, but they said timing-wise of making contact with us if they wanted to work with us in the funding. When’s the right time? You said early…

Jeff Walters:
In a community’s timing, anytime. If we can get in early if someone is thinking about removing a dam, but in terms of timing for applications, they vary throughout the year. There’s a January one, a March one, a September one deadlines for a lot of this funding. If you are an SRF user, you’ve probably gone through that process. You probably have the stars on your calendar, knowing exactly when those applications are due.

Nichoel Church:
There’s also a process that we have to consider for design. If we were aware of a project today, we wouldn’t necessarily go after funding tomorrow because we wouldn’t know what our design process would be. That takes time. So if we were aware of a project today and we figured out what the client wanted and what they were interested in removal, then we would be aware of our options and our ranges because we wouldn’t want to fill out an application for funding that we couldn’t use. It would just go to someone else. So we would definitely want to work through the design process a little bit and then apply for the funding, and fiscal years are annual, which is great. So even if we miss the deadline on one, there’s always another opportunity for something else or to reapply a year from that date.

Jeff Walters:
Right and we did that with clean water SRF projects where we were looking for certain benefits, and SRF said, you know, let’s apply again, and we can reorganize the money for you for dam removal projects, but let’s make sure we have a good emphasis on water quality.

Nichoel Church:
Exactly. Because that is a requirement of the State Revolving Fund use of that money for water quality.

Christy Ortmann:
There were quite a few interesting questions? Thank you for your participation and for asking us questions.

Jeff Walters:
Funding’s very important. While these are all great and important topics, funding is the single most important topic because, without the dollars, you’re not removing that damn.

Nichoel Church:
It can also become an imminent hazard for dams that are failing. With the funding assistance that FEMA provides for the failure of structures, the DNR provides for failure structures. It’s important to also know the condition of your dam. If it’s simply a low head dam that you just want to remove, that’s one thing. If it’s imminent to fall into the river, that’s a different story. So I guess the condition of the dam would also be important to know as we would proceed with funding applications and assistance.

Squaw Creek Modification (36:13)

Jeff Walters:
So, briefly, we touched on Squaw Creek here a couple of times, but that was FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. That program paid for 85% of the dam removal and the in-stream structure, bank stabilization, design, and environmental documentation for that project…

Nichoel Church:
…and permitting.

Jeff Walters:
…and permitting, correct.

Nichoel Church:
And that slide that you see, you can kind of see the dam that has been modified. That’s the first overflow structure that you see. It does not have cyclical currents any longer. It’s very shallow. The flow allows kayakers to, like Jeff had said before, get a little whitewater action moving through this section of Squaw Creek. It’s a huge benefit from an environmental perspective—several benefits for water quality. You can just see how clear the water is as it moves through that section of the creek, and FEMA helped significantly with that project.

Mitigation Banking – Little Dam (37:11)

Jeff Walters:
One funding mechanism that we didn’t list out but is gaining a lot of popularity in the Midwest, especially in Iowa, is Mitigation Banking, specifically for streams. We were very fortunate enough to be the first in the state to have a Stream Mitigation Banking that was based on dam removal up in Fort Dodge. It was a very unique process, not only because it was the first in the state, but we were removing two dams with one project, and we had a full removal of the little dam.

Mitigation Banking – Hydroelectric Dam (37:46)

Jeff Walters:
And then we had initially a full removal of the Hydro Dam, but circumstances, as it would be, with some regulatory agencies, specifically SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office), and we’ll talk about this in a minute. They required us to keep some of the dams for historical purposes. Still, the benefit of removing a dam above and beyond water quality, safety, recreational benefits was the city of Fort Dodge is going to reap the benefits of being a Mitigation Bank so they can sell stream credits, which help to pay off the bond for this project and that money will go to future recreational endeavors within the Des Moines River.

Nichoel Church:
As part of that process of funding assistance review for that particular project, we started off not with Mitigation Banking. We started off with, well actually before we even got involved, the city went to the Corps of Engineers and asked for their help with section 206. So the Corps of Engineers would essentially remove the dam on behalf of the city of Fort Dodge. It wasn’t free. It was going to cost 50/50. The Corps of Engineers would’ve had to go through their own internal sections, their own branches internally for review, which would have tacked on quite a bit of money. The city of Fort Dodge decided to at SRF funding from the DNR, which would have worked out. It would have paid for most of the dam removal.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, the clean water SRF funding would have paid for a substantial amount of the project, but we came up with the idea of removing the dams as part of a Mitigation Banking process. Worked with the Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the DNR. They agreed this would be a great candidate project, but one of the conditions was with a mitigation bank, you can’t use federal funds for Mitigation Bank. So the city had to decide, and they went with the Mitigation Banking option, and that process added about a year. But it also gives the city great flexibility financial flexibility in how they can use future dollars. Mitigation Banking is a great opportunity if those other funding mechanisms don’t work.

Nichoel Church:
Did we have any other questions?

Christy Ortmann:
No, we had quite a few there. I haven’t seen anything additional come through.

Regulatory Coordination and Permitting (40:34)

Nichoel Church:
Okay. We’ll let you move into the next polling question, but we can talk a little bit about agency requirements and permitting.

Jeff Walters:
So we’ve touched on most of the agencies, the Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and the State Historic Preservation offices are all going to have their chance at reviewing these types of projects. Whether it’s for funding or just simply for permitting, there’s going to be a high level of involvement. And what we historically like to do is get them involved early, let them know what we’re doing, how we want to do it, and the approximate timeframe so that they can tell us how long it’s going to take and what they may need for their review process…

Nichoel Church:
…and when Jeff says early, we mean preliminary design. Very early preliminary design. Because if we need an individual permit from the Corps of Engineers, it takes over a year. If we need an Iowa Department of Natural Resources floodplain permitting, that takes at least six months. So we definitely want to get our plans in front of the agencies as soon as we can, even if they change. They’re aware of what we are proposing early on and we can understand their requirements for permitting.

Jeff Walters:
Right. Once we get through that concept and preliminary design phase, we have the opportunity then to meet with these agencies again, submit our applications for 404 and Iowa Department Natural Resource floodplain permits. The other thing we wanted to do early, especially with some of these bigger, older dams, is getting our cultural resources investigations completed and getting that information submitted to SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) as soon as possible. A lot of these big dams are well over 50 years old. They may have some historical context to the community and because they have a historical context to the community or they were uniquely built or designed, they may be eligible to be on the national register of historic places. We found that out with the city of Fort Dodge, and SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office), with the hydroelectric dam. They were understanding that the dam needed to be removed, but their purview is the recognition and preservation of historic sites. And the hydroelectric dam being about 100 years old, was a modern industrial success. It provided a lot of context to the community. It served a great community purpose.

Nichoel Church:
There’s a hydroelectric park right next to it.

Jeff Walters:
Right. There’s just a multitude of layers with that type of project where if you can’t get SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) concurring early on or figure out a way for mitigation, they have the opportunity to shut you down. They mean well, but they’re trying to protect their purview, their asset. So SHPO and the Corps of Engineers and EPA, they’re going to work concurrently at that federal level because of the federal laws and they need to be in that process.

Nichoel Church:
The same thing with Fish and Wildlife Service and Section 7, they’re going to take their time to review all species under their purview, whether it’s the Threatened & Endangered Species Act regulating fish, muscles, invertebrates. There are several factors that they can take into consideration and with the DNR, if it is on an unnamed stream, you might have to get sovereign lands reviewed. You might have to get their own Threatened & Endangered Species office involved to complete a biological survey. They want their data as well. So if it is a larger dam, you’re probably going to have more permitting hoops to jump through than if it was a private dam. You still have permitting that you need to complete, but usually, a private dam is on a smaller system such as a femoral or intermittent channel or a farm pond.

Jeff Walters:
So if we can get these organizations, regulatory agencies, and the applicant, which could be a city, county, private landowner, at the table early on, develop that partnership and relationships with everyone we’re going to have much, much greater success and that’s at all levels, local, state, federal, the consultant and the applicant…

Nichoel Church:
…and don’t forget the community.

Jeff Walters:
…don’t forget the community. Of course.

Nichoel Church:
Education outreach.

Navigating the Permitting Process (45:23)

Jeff Walters:
So Nichoel briefly discussed the permitting process. We’re going to need more than likely a 404 permit from the Corps of Engineers. We’re going to likely need a floodplain permit from the state. They could need local floodplain permits from a city or a county if they have jurisdiction. We want to complete that permitting process in between our preliminary design and final design. We don’t want to do it too early because if there are big changes in the preliminary design, we may have to go back and ask for a change within the permits. We don’t want to do it too late in the final design because that doesn’t afford these regulatory agencies the opportunity to really comment, provide feedback, and maybe interject some thoughts that make the project more successful.

Christy Ortmann:
Giving you guys the response here on the poll, 100% are most interested in removing.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah, and removal is a great option. It’s generally the best option because you’re retaining or you’re getting the watershed back to its pre-construction condition, original flows, restoring that floodplain. But there is certainly the opportunity for modification, and that’s where we come into play. We want to look at the system, we want to look at the dam and we want to make sure that there are options.

Nichoel Church:
Whether it’s full removal or modification, design, permitting and construction are all there. Each one of those is a component of both processes. The only difference is with modification, a portion of the dam remains in the stream.

Jeff Walters:
And there has to be just cause for either situation, whether it’s for removal or modification.

Nichoel Church:
For Fort Dodge, it’s important to also mention that while SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) did require us to leave a portion of the dam in place for historical significance, it also saved on construction costs. So it’s important to mention that while that did take additional permitting time, we were afforded that amount of savings with the contractor. They didn’t have to remove that section of the dam. Larger dams full removal is always the most expensive option because you are completely removing all of that concrete, you are completely removing and stabilizing the channel bed, the stream bed, you have to consider the channel profile. If you’re not at bedrock, you don’t want a scour pool, a significant scour pool downstream. You also don’t want head cutting upstream. They are several factors that you have to consider with a full removal. There are also several factors you have to consider with a modification. So for larger dams, it will always be more expensive to completely remove a dam but sometimes modifications are just not an option.

Jeff Walters:
We go through a benefit-cost analysis when we look at the dam itself and the up and downstream benefits and repercussions of that removal and that’s part of our process to make sure that when we look at that modification, whether it be full removal or partial removal, we want to make sure that the applicant and the client, whether it’s public or private, is getting what they need and it’s to the benefit of that watershed.

Christy Ortmann:
I have noted that we’ve gone a little bit over our time here with people. We’re at just shy of an hour. So thank you for sticking with us. We do have a few more questions but I wanted to follow up at this point and say thank you for listening in case people needed to check out based on their time. You’re welcome to stick around for these last few questions. A lot of the projects that we discussed today, I think all of them are actually on our website at Snyder-Associates.com so you can get some more details. We also have a video of the removal of the hydro dam. So that could be of interest to people based on the responses we got today. On the screen, we’re showing you both Nichoel and Jeff’s email. So if you have some specific questions that you’d like to send to them that you didn’t want to ask through this conversation today, please feel free to reach out. So with that, if people want to check out, we understand. Otherwise, I’m going to ask you guys a few more questions. No, you guys don’t get to leave.

Nichoel Church:
Darn it.

Jeff Walters:
We’ll stick around.

Christy Ortmann:
I got a specific question about Eminent Domain for the general welfare. Has that ever been used?

Jeff Walters:
In our projects? No. I would have to defer to someone that’s a right-of-way expert or someone who understands Eminent Domain law better than I do.

Nichoel Church:
We have not had a dam removed from Eminent Domain.

Jeff Walters:
Yeah. We’ve never used that process. I suppose there’s an opportunity to, but I would have to defer to experts here in-house regarding Eminent Domain.

Nichoel Church:
And it would depend on how close residential or commercial properties are to the dam. If you were to have Eminent Domain, would it affect those properties?

Christy Ortmann:
The next question is about the difficulty in the process of permitting.

Jeff Walters:
I’ve gone through this type of permitting for dam removal projects or wetland delineation streams delineations for about 20 years now, and I’ve had 100% percent success rate and I don’t find it to be that challenging as long as we all come together, the regulatory community as well as the applicant and the consultant and there’s a general consensus and understanding that here’s what we want to do. And on these types of projects, the Corps of Engineers and the DNR are really willing to take that extra step because they understand the importance of dam removal while they may not explicitly state that it’s for safety. They know there’s this big-time safety issue. They also recognize the high, high benefit to water quality and just restoring that watershed.

Nichoel Church:
To elaborate on what Jeff said, it’s not difficult. It is time-consuming. Part of our job is to be the “in-between” between the agencies and our clients. Our client doesn’t need to know the Clean Water Act in order to get a permit from the Corps of Engineers. That’s our job. We will work with the agencies to get your project approved, to get that permit in place in a timely manner so we can move forward with construction at an appropriate season, which for dam removal is usually in the winter. It is very important for us to get in front of those agencies early so that they can understand our project and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Christy Ortmann:
You guys have answered all the other questions that were submitted as you were talking.

Nichoel Church:
Thank you all very much for attending.

Christy Ortmann:
We really appreciate it, and thank you for listening. We will be sending everybody who participated today a recorded version, and we will also have it on our website in the future. So thank you again. If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us.

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