Willow River Dam

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), has concluded that the Willow River Dam Restoration Project in Pine County does not require an environmental impact statement.

The severe flooding back in 2016 caused the soil around the spillway to erode.

 “Once it started it didn’t stop until the water level was roughly the same on the upstream side as it was on the downstream side. The north embankment was completely washed away,” said State Dam Safety Engineer Jason Boyle.

Planning is now underway to replace the damaged Willow River Dam with a rock arch rapids dam. According to the DNR, this will help restore lake levels upstream of the current structure and also facilitate fish passage. In addition to allowing fish passage, the rock arch rapids design will reduce safety issues associated with the previous dam structure.

Fishing improvements

According to Area Fisheries Supervisor Leslie George, the rock arch rapids are designed specifically keeping sturgeon in mind, along with other fish species that have the potential to come up from the Kettle River. 

“The spacing of rocks and size of each resting area is designed with fish passage in mind, including consideration of lake sturgeon coming up from the Kettle River,” said George. 

According to a press release, the DNR previously completed an environmental assessment worksheet on the project, and the results of that worksheet informed the DNR’s determination that an environmental impact statement is not required.

As provided under the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act, the DNR prepared the worksheet to assess whether the project presented the potential for significant environmental effects. The analysis considered:

• The type, extent and reversibility of environmental effects.

• The potential for cumulative environmental effects.

• Whether any environmental effects were subject to ongoing regulatory authority.

• The extent to which environmental effects can be anticipated and controlled as a result of other available environmental studies.

The DNR has determined that all potential environmental effects from the proposed project are minimal or can be managed through ongoing regulatory authority. Given this determination, this ends the state environmental review process and the project can now proceed to decisions on required permits and other approvals.

Additional information, including decision details about the proposed project and the DNR’s review process are available at

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