December 4, 2008:    Dam politics, the environment, and responsible engineering.

This letter is in response to the Dec. 3  letter criticizing the existence of the Windom Dam. 

Mary Benson says the DNR requires much of Windom in the way of expensive studies to prove the existing dam is sound.  She’s correct. What she may not know is that requiring the city to jump through all the hoops (described in last week’s article) to obtain a DNR riverbank repair permit is based on a policy. It has no basis in law.

 What is also not mentioned is a rule prohibiting public waters alteration when the work “will adversely impact public infrastructure, particularly roads and drainage systems.”   

Information shows that utilities running under the west river area are at much greater risk of damage due to freezing, or scouring of the riverbed during a flood.  This was not an issue with a dam in place. It should now concern everyone.  

Research shows that pool areas of low head dams enjoy protection from erosion during floods; without a dam this is a much greater erosive risk due to faster, more concentrated currents.  The Des Moines River is a naturally meandering river, which it will do if given a chance.   Perhaps this is why a more recent Army Corps of Engineers report than the one Benson cited says the dam does not cause flooding and its removal was not recommended.    

The DNR says it will not support protecting riverbanks unless a need is demonstrated.

By then it would then be too late. 

The DNR claims utility lines, homes, Riverview apartment building and the Highway 62 bridge are all improperly situated. So we must depend on the DNR to protect millions of dollars of public and private property during a flood. 

The DNR would have the City ignore engineering advice (which we paid for) to protect homes, utilities and the Highway 62 bridge.  This would place people at risk of catastrophic flood damage in the name of “letting a river be a river” in Windom.  (We won’t mention the DNR low head dams upstream.)     

We have shown a long-term plan using the reservoir to benefit the public and wildlife.  We have noted the devastation to pre-existing wetlands nesting habitat that supported countless ducks, pelicans, egrets, herons, geese and other wildlife.  The DNR responded by stating “the wildlife argument is merely qualitative recollections of the good ole days.”   For us, the “good ole days” were…2005.  We’ve been lucky because there hasn’t been a significant flood recently.  How long our luck lasts is an open question that should concern all Windom residents.        

Bob Williams, Professional Engineer & Save the Island Park Dam Group Member


Editor’s Note: Windom’s Save the Island Park Dam Group has  created a website,, which contains much information and correspondence about this issue, both in terms of the dam’s benefit to the environment and the dam’s benefits to the city of Windom.