What, No More Surfing on the Red Cedar River?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 8:00 am
Jessy Gregg

The underwater dam on Michigan State University's campus might soon be a thing of the past.

That is, if the recommendation of a group of MSU engineering students is followed: to replace that dam with a series of “rock arch rapids,” and thus restore the Red Cedar River to a more natural flow rate that allows for fish migration and recreational opportunities, including kayaking and canoeing.

Surfing the Red Cedar River, however, might also become a thing of the past, because removing the underwater dam, or weir, likely would reduce the possibility of heavy rains leading to a standing wave. Unusually high levels of water combined with the small rapids across from the Administration Building can cause the water to curl back towards upstream.

The four students - Matt Champion, Sam Rolling, Cody Howard and Brittany MacIntyre - presented digital modeling at last week's City Council work session that showed how the concrete, horizontal dam, or weir, has a detrimental effect on biodiversity along the Red Cedar River and occasionally contributes to flood events on campus.

The weir was originally installed in 1878 to provide a reservoir for drinking water and firefighting. Today the reservoir is primarily used for irrigating MSU’s lawns and landscaping, with 75 percent of that water coming directly from the Red Cedar River.

Since the pumps (pictured below) used in the irrigation system are due to be replaced, the students working on the Red Cedar Restoration project – in conjunction with the Sustainable Business Association (SBA) – are suggesting that this is a prime time to consider replacing that system with wells and allowing the Red Cedar to return to a more natural flow.

Matt Champion, project manager for the Red Cedar Restoration project, explained that removing the weir would lower the water level north of the dam by almost two feet, hopefully reducing the likelihood of floods in that section of campus.

Several representatives from the SBA, a club started by environmentally-minded economics students, are also advocating for the change. The SBA cites economic and social benefits of having the river restored, such as the return of a canoe or kayak livery to campus for recreation enjoyment of MSU’s primary natural resource.

Bob Wilson from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who is also the head of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, is the faculty adviser for the group. He explained that currently the students are in the process of gathering community support for the project, which is estimated to cost $500,000. The next step will be a one-day workshop at the end of May to present the project to public officials such as Rep. Julie Brixie and Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann.


Note: This article was amended to correct the spelling of Brittany MacIntyre's last name and to correct the suggestion that the cement weir currently in existence was the original weir.

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