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Published August 29 2012

Modified dams at Hickson, Christine help fish, safety

OXBOW, N.D. – Capping off more than a decade’s worth of effort, officials commemorated Wednesday the completion of two newly modified dams on the Red River near here.

The dams at Hickson and Christine were renovated to enhance fish passage and improve recreational safety at the hazard-prone sites.

“Safety is a big issue, but more than that, it’s about restoring the environment to what it once was,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Fargo owns the two dams, as well as three others on the Red River. All five have now been modified with the enhanced features, which officials said will diminish the risk of drowning-related deaths.

“These modifications make sense for public safety,” said Kent Lokkesmoe, director of capital investments for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The dams at Hickson and Christine were first built in the 1930s to store water in case of drought.

But in the decades since, the dams grew problematic – halting natural fish passage and posing a danger for people who used the river for recreational purposes.

The $1.7 million project converted an instant drop at the dams into rock-arch rapids with gentle slopes that span at least 100 feet.

More than 1,900 tons of boulder and nearly 40,000 tons of rock were used to create the features.

“It’s good for fish, it’s good for people and it’s good for the river,” said Bob Backman, director of River Keepers, a Fargo-based advocacy and awareness group.

Fargo leaders first sought to improve the dams in 2001, but final plans for the project weren’t done until 2010. Construction at both sites began late last year and finished in February.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, officials from Fargo, the Minnesota DNR, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined with area advocacy groups to celebrate what Backman called a reconnection of the river.

Area youth from groups like River Watch and 4-H helped put 3-month-old lake sturgeon in the Red as a way to promote its environmental stability.

Of the eight dams on the Red River south of the Canadian border, only one still needs to be modernized. The dam at Drayton, N.D., – about 210 river miles north of Fargo – is slated for such an upgrade as part of mitigation efforts related to the Red River diversion project.

Once that project is complete, fish will have 600 miles of free-flowing river to navigate, officials said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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