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
Secondary Client Organization: 
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
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
Role for each program area: 

Conservation Ecology: Student shall review existing data on the Upper Black River as it relates to potential effects of the hydroelectric dam on Lake Sturgeon biology. Possible avenues include: quantifying the amount of ideal spawning habitat inundate by Tower Pond, investigating the potential for increased natural reproduction related to dam removal, and predicting the effects that spawning Lake Sturgeon may have on the river system if they were allowed to migrate freely up the Upper Black River. Student may also entertain possible mitigation measures if the dam is in operation for the foreseeable future.

Environmental Policy and Planning: Student shall review existing policies, laws, management plans, and permits to understand and summarize the issue. Student may create a vision that is in harmony with existing plans and policies. Student may investigate innovative decision-making processes based on existing information and information gained through this project. This student may also investigate the economics issues related to the project.

Behavior, Education, and Communication: Student shall attempt to gain an understanding of how relevant individuals and groups perceive the value of an impounded versus un-impounded aquatic system and how it potentially relates to Lake Sturgeon management. This will require surveying values, attitude, and motivations. Student will also communicate the potential consequences of different decisions to the public and/or interested groups. Face-to-face social survey skills are necessary as well as being able administer online or papers surveys. Student must also to present issues in an unbiased manner.

Environmental Informatics: It is possible that this project could utilize the expertise of a student in this field. Potential avenues for investigation include: predicting the channel morphology, substrate, and gradient of the river in impounded reaches. Quantification of spawning habitat upstream of dam and generation of maps and GIS layers to assist in describing the project area. Note that some side-scan sonar data is already being collected in impoundments. Students interested in this field will need to communicate with client to ensure that the position is essential.

Sustainable Systems: It is not certain whether a student in this field is necessary, but it can be discussed.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Team Size: 3 or 4 students

Funding Sources: 

Base funding is not available for this project, but support may be available for housing when students are in the project area and for administrative costs such as printing and mailing. Most work for this project can be done remotely and via internet, phone, and email.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

Deliverables: Team will provide a written report and oral presentation to stakeholders and interested public.

Implementation: The project output will be shared with tribal governments signatory to the 2007 Inland Consent Decree as well as with cooperating organizations, researchers, and Dam owners. The Report will be used to inform management decisions and will potentially be referenced in future grant applications relevant to the project area.

Contact full name: 
Patrick Hanchin
Job title: 
Natural Resources Manager
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Steve Yaffee
Contact Phone: 
231-547-2914 Ext. 227
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
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