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Pelican River Dam Removals

Fish Lake Dam
Pelican River Dam Removals

Location:  Pelican Rapids, Minnesota
Client:  Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District

Eight Dams Along Pelican River

Historically, there were eight traditional dams along the Pelican River. Dams such as these often act as barriers that block fish and other wild life from moving up and downstream. However, these structures can also be converted in such a way that they are more favorable to passage of fish, muskrats, otters, shorebirds, waterfowl, salamanders, frogs, crayfish and other invertebrate species. 

As part of the Red River of the North Fisheries Management Plan, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has listed goals of removing barriers to restore uninterrupted fish migration pathways. The Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment was passed in 2008, providing more funding opportunities for these types of projects.

Fish Lake Dam

Fish Lake Dam sets water levels for Pelican Lake, Fish Lake, and Bass Lake, which are a chain of lakes on the Pelican River. The original Fish Lake Dam was built in 1932 and has had a long and storied history. In 1937, the dam came under the control of the State Conservation Commission. In 2003, the center island washed out, and a temporary patch was put in place until a more permanent solution could be completed. In 2013, some minor repairs were made, but exposed rebar and sheet pile remained. The Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District (PGOLID) sought a permanent solution for the aging and dilapidating dam that improved fish and wildlife habitat, increased safety, and maintained current upstream lake levels.  

Working with Houston Engineering, Inc. (HEI), the PGOLID concluded that the best permanent solution that accomplished the project goals would be to install a rock ramp and natural boulder arch rapids. HEI surveyed and designed the proposed project. 

HEI worked closely with MnDNR on the project design on behalf of the PGOLID, and construction began in 2017 and was completed in 2018. 


Lake Lizzie and Prairie Lake Dam

Building on the success of the Fish Lake Dam, the DNR partnered with PGOLID again in 2019 to complete the Lizzie and Prairie Dams in cooperation with their lake associations. HEI was contracted to complete similar dam reconstructions for the Lake Lizzie and Prairie Lake Dams. Construction began in winter 2019 and the dams were completed in the summer 2020. With the completion of these three dam reconstructions, 20 miles of stream were reconnected for fish passage.

The History of Fish Along the Pelican River

Historically, many species of fish use the Pelican River to migrate every year. However, with several dams constructed along the river, these species were no longer seen upstream of the dams. For example, lake sturgeon were wiped out of the entire Red River Basin by the late 1800s, largely due to dam construction and habitat degradation. Now that these dams are replaced with fish-friendly passages, the sturgeon are back! This type of success story will be seen throughout the rest of the Pelican River on its connected lakes as the dams are removed. 

Client Benefits

  • Improved fish migration along the Pelican River.
  • Improved aesthetic with natural-looking rapids.
  • Created a potential spawning habitat.
  • Improved safety.
  • Ensured current lake levels and hydraulics are maintained.