Shows a lot of water rushing through a breach in an earthen dam

Current plans (2022-2024) by the Natural Resources Conservation Service are to decommission 14 PL-566 flood control dams within the Coon Creek Watershed and 9 dams in the West Fork Kickapoo watershed. Concerns about increased flooding in the absence of the dams are valid. Fortunately, solutions are available to reduce flooding through watershed-wide changes in land management practices. As the Environmental Impact Statements indicate, the dams are structurally unstable, and potential dam failures pose a great risk. A dam breach poses the danger of catastrophic flooding, impacting farms and other private lands, endangering roads and bridges, and causing in-stream degradation. Although dam removal will restore habitat connectivity in the floodplain and create opportunities for streambank and wetland restoration projects, it will likely cause some adverse effects including loss of flood protection for private lands, bridges, road crossings, streambank restoration projects, and public easements. Temporary impacts to water quality will likely occur during the project as contaminants are released from sediment pools upstream of the dams. 

To minimize flood risk in the absence of dams, concerted efforts are needed to implement land management practices. The existing dams in the Coon Creek watershed regulate about 25% of the watershed, providing an estimated 17% reduction in peak flow. Similar or even greater reductions in peak flow can feasibly be achieved through widespread adoption of conservation practices such as reforestation, hillslope forest management, and agriculture that incorporates perennial vegetation such as prairie strips. The Environmental Impact Statements for the West Fork and Coon Creek dams provide recommendations for conversion of upland row crops to perennial vegetation as a means of reducing flood levels in the absence of dams but do not outline a roadmap or provide project funding to do so. In-stream impacts, including a pulse of sediment and contaminants following dam removal, can be mitigated through techniques that slow the flow of water, such as beaver dam analogs. 

For widespread changes in management practices to be implemented realistically, a watershed planning effort with community involvement will be vital. It is timely, then, that a planning project for the Coon Creek watershed has recently begun which will directly involve landowners to identify management goals. With assistance from the Department of Natural Resources, Valley Stewardship Network, the Vernon County Land and Water Department, and the Monroe County Land and Water Department are collaborating to develop a 9 Key Element Watershed Plan for the Timber Coulee subwatershed of Coon Creek, where 10 of the dams to be decommissioned are located. By working as a community, residents impacted by dam removals will be empowered to make changes that reduce flood risk in their watershed.