Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits Associated with Operation or Removal of the Tower-Kleber Hydroelectric Dam on the Upper Black River in Cheboygan County, Michigan (2017)

Client Organization: 
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Project Location : 
Onaway, Cheboygan County, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

The Tower-Kleber Dam is a hydroelectric facility on the Upper Black River, a tributary to Black Lake in Cheboygan County. Black Lake has one of the largest inland Lake Sturgeon populations in Michigan which supports a popular fishery for both State-licensed and Tribal fishers. The Lake Sturgeon population is also culturally important to both State and Tribal members and many people enjoy watching the annual spawning run in the Black River. Currently the population is supported almost entirely by stocking, which is facilitated by a rearing facility on the property of the dam owners (Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership). While it is not a certainty, researchers suspect that the dam may be affecting Lake Sturgeon reproduction in some manner as the population was previously supported by natural reproduction. However, there are other confounding factors such as climate changes, trophic changes in Black Lake, as well as the presence of another dam (Alverno) on the lower Black River that blocks migration to Lake Huron.

Goals & Objectives: The goal of this project is to complete and initial scoping of the benefits and costs associated with operation or removal of the Tower-Kleber Dam. This scoping may include, but should not be limited to:

  • Evaluation of community (public, riparian landowners, dam owners, researchers, Tribes, Sturgeon for Tomorrow, lake association) perceptions about the value of the existing impoundment and hydropower generation versus a free-flowing river.
  • Economic evaluation of the existing impoundment and hydropower generation versus a free-flowing river. Examples may include: benefits of clean hydropower, jobs, recreational benefits of impoundment, recreational benefits of high-gradient river, cost of Lake Sturgeon rearing, loss of migration route, etc.¬†
  • Biological/ecological benefits and costs associated with impoundment versus free-flowing river.
  • Feasibility (licensing, permitting, time frame, planning, grant opportunities) of dam removal.
  • Relate dam operation/removal to watershed management approach and existing plans/strategies.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: The Lake Sturgeon population in Black Lake is highly valuable and culturally important to multiple user groups. While the fate of the Tower-Kleber Dam is not decided, by conducting an initial scoping of the relevant issues, managers will be able to make more informed decisions and the community will have reasonable expectations for the Lake Sturgeon population and aquatic system for the near future.

Specific Activities & Duration: Community perceptions could be evaluated with online survey, mail surveys, or via focus groups/interviews. Economic evaluations may require an angler survey or the use of existing models that can be modified for the Black River and will also require access to hydroelectric data. Summary of information related to Conservation Biology will have to be completed prior to determination of whether additional field data should be collected, but it is unlikely that field data collection would be extensive or highly quantitative. All of these methodologies seem reasonable for a 16-month project for 3-4 students.

Integrative Approach: The proposed research would integrate social survey skills, economic evaluations, and biological/ecological to form a comprehensive document that lays out the status and potential future of the fisheries management on the Upper Black River and Tower-Kleber Dam.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Steve Yaffee
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Lauren Edson, MS Conservation Ecology
  • Kevin He, MS Conservation Ecology/Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Molly Watters, MS Behavior, Education and Communication¬†
Project Status: 
Past Project