St. Anthony Falls: Audience Q&A

At our recent Water Over the Dam panel discussion, we had four invited guests talk about St. Anthony Falls. We also took questions from the audience, and a selection of those follows:

Q: What is the thought of completely removing the dam and going back to the natural aesthetic of the falls?

Dan Dressler: Being a park ranger and not an engineer, I do think that there’s probably a lot of engineering that would need to be done to make that happen. I’m not sure it’s entirely impossible but I do agree that one spot where that seems logical is over on the old east side of the falls, where the actual front of the falls is still intact. The spillway, of course, is protecting the eroding falls, and even to restore it would still require a lot of concrete, even if it were to make it more natural.

John Anfinson, National Park Service: You’re right on. When Zebulon Pike came here as an engineer, he measured the height of the falls as 16-1/2 feet. The height of the falls now, the lock, is a 49-foot lift, so you’d have to cut it down to 16-1/2 feet again. That story about the falls almost eroding away completely is true – the third-highest dam on the Mississippi is actually under the Mississippi here and it keeps the last tick of the geologic clock from going and St. Anthony Falls going away, so you have to be careful on what you try to restore here.

Dick Kronick: I’m sure many of you are aware that during the 19th century there was a plan to tunnel under the falls, which failed and the falls fell in. That was the original reason for putting a wooden structure over the falls and then putting in the concrete that we have today. If money could be raised to remove the concrete apron, there would still be the problem of that eroded and impacted-by-humans situation. On top of that, I’m sure many of us also understand that St. Anthony Falls moves backwards. It originally started out about where downtown St. Paul is at the end of the Ice Age and has moved to where it is now in these 10,000 years. If it were ‘naturalized,’ that would begin again and pretty soon St. Anthony Falls would no longer be in downtown Minneapolis.

Q: Would Asian carp be able to make it upstream if the dam were gone?

Dressler: I’m not sure anyone really knows. The nice thing is right now, with the height of the spillway and the lock doors being closed, even in high-water situations they probably won’t get around it. But with a restored falls, much shorter? Hard to say. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota is doing a lot of research on this front.

The economic
Peggy Lucas 

The Native American
Darlene St. Clair 

The recreation
Dan Dressler 

The developer
Neal Route 

Share this Post