by Matt Bednarski
I was camping at the Mauthe Lake recreational area with my wife and some friends this past weekend. The weather was fantastic; hiking and swimming were perfect; the star gazing was phenomenal; and the company made the weekend. For those who don’t know where Mauthe Lake is, it’s in the North Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Fond du Lac County just north of Kewaskum; and it’s only about an hour north of Milwaukee. Mauthe Lake also happens to be very near the headwaters of the East Branch of the Milwaukee River. Although I didn’t partake, Mauthe Lake is also home to very good fishing. When two of our companions decided to fish from the bridge at the outlet of the lake into the Milwaukee River, it gave me an opportunity to tell them about a project I was part of on the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County (as if an engineer needs a reason to talk about a project he worked on – just ask my wife).
In 2009 I participated in the design and construction management for a fishway around the Mequon-Thiensville dam near the most downstream portion of the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County. The fishway is a manmade channel in what was once a mill pond just to the north and east of the dam. It allows fish to swim around the dam and the six feet of difference between the upstream and downstream sides of the dam by navigating a 1,200-foot long channel with riffles and resting pools. This project is part of a larger program of fish passage projects throughout Ozaukee County and into Washington County all along the Milwaukee River and its tributaries. The program benefits fish by opening up over 158 river miles of habitat to them. It also benefits humans by returning fish species to parts of the southeastern Wisconsin creating better fishing throughout the region. You can find out all there is to know about the program at Ozaukee County’s website.
Last week Ozaukee County went live with a webcam that was installed underwater at the Mequon-Thiensville fishway. And much to the chagrin of the naysayers (and there were naysayers), we now have pictures and video proving that fish (and other wildlife) will indeed use this fishway.
I am proud to say I was a part of this project. People smarter than me were able to define the science and suggest the design of the fishway. I simply took their ideas and turned it into a public works project. I was quite privileged to work with some brilliant people throughout the process. A project like this spans across all levels of government from the Federal level to the State, County, and local levels. It requires input, design, and construction expertise from private industry like engineering consultants and contractors. It also benefitted from a high level of cooperation from the private property owners affected by the construction. The individuals who helped make it a reality are too numerous to list (and I certainly don’t want to leave anyone out). However, Andrew Struck and Matt Aho from Ozaukee County have made the Fish Passage Program their passions for the past five years. Their labors are becoming everyone’s realities through the eyes of the webcam.
Now this program moves forward at another Milwaukee River dam I am quite familiar with – the Newburg Dam. This dam is scheduled to be removed before the end of 2012, connecting fisheries and fishing in Washington County to that in Ozaukee County. And as my friend, Mike Heili, the Village President in Newburg, handed me some salmon fillets from his fishing expedition on Lake Michigan last week, I couldn’t help but think I did my part to help sustain fishing for another generation.