Save the Windom Dam

This website is created by stakeholders committed to public safety, the protection of public and private property, and the restoration of the pond and wetland environment severely damaged last year.


According to historical information, there have been four dams present on the Des Moines River in the vicinity of the existing dam. The first dam was built adjacent to the Union Pacific tracks by Samuel Collins and H.T. Drake in 1878 to power a flour mill that was located near the current liquor store.  This first dam was built of logs and was replaced after seven years in 1885.  The second dam was built with brush and gravel holding back approximately 10 feet of water.  A third dam consisting of concrete abutments and wooden planks was built near the turn of the century at the current dam location.  The wooden portion this dam was washed out in the 1962 flood and replaced with the current dam in 1963.  Notably, the City decided a dam was worth building and maintaining well after the original flour mill had passed.

Poor maintenance and a lack of timely repairs by the City has resulted in the big gap in the riverbank. The DNR in particular is now using this opportunity to transform the river into their particular version of the ideal river environment by destroying the dam and pre-existing pond wetland environment that we all appreciated, and which delivered important benefits in terms of erosion control.   

DNR staff stated in an e-mail that: “The City of Windom owns the dam and will ultimately decide its future.”  Their actions to date contradict this statement.  The DNR asserts in published documentation that the DNR builds consensus among stakeholders in regard to dam removal issues.  So far this does not appear to be the case.   

As a consequence of allowing the dam to be compromised, a large wetland environment has been seriously damaged where migratory birds of many varieties once flourished.  This wetland destruction has been done without apology for doing so, or involving river residents and landowners in any ongoing process of developing options to consider in order to positively resolve the current situation. 

The DNR’s publicly stated intent is to remove the dam and place about 7 riprap riffles in a regraded meandering stream channel so sturgeon, mussels and canoeists could benefit.   

We believe there are important negative consequences to an ill-conceived dam removal that are by all appearances being ignored by the City and the DNR that need to be fully considered for the protection of public and private property.

Reasons to Keep a Dam

Erosion Protection
A University of North Dakota research paper notes how erosion is greatly minimized in the reservoir area with a dam in place.  Millions of dollars worth of public and private property are at risk if a natural, faster flowing river flows through the current environment.  A federal multistory apartment building is also notably at risk.  The DNR rules specifically exclude private property from being a factor of concern in their pursuit of restoration efforts.  However we assert as a moral principle the City is obligated to protect their citizens whose homes were built in a protective reservoir environment.  Homeowners have not been informed by the City or the DNR of the increased risks of dam removal to their property.

Geotechnical Stability of the Rolling Green neighborhood
The Rolling Green hillside has a fairly steep slope with a shallow groundwater table.  Removing the dam will force the groundwater table to undergo greater long term fluctuations than with a reservoir in place.  These are risk factors for potential slope failures, and these have been ignored by the city to date.

MnDOT Bridge Stability
MnDOT has expressed concerns in writing, about the negative effects of the proposed actions on the stability of two highway bridges, and riverbank stability.  The City of Windom as of mid-April, has ignored these concerns.

Drowning Safety
Children have historically drowned in a more natural-flowing Des Moines River after falling thru thin ice.  With a dam in the current location, the water flow in the reservoir is slowed and evened out, leading to thicker, safer ice.  No one has drowned at the dam due to the hydraulic roller effect, which can be easily addressed with a rip rap retrofit.  The DNR is forcing the City to deal with a risk of theoretical deaths at the dam itself while ignoring the increased risks throughout the length of the river in Windom, documented by actual deaths.

A large wetland environment has been damaged where geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, herons, egrets, eagles, songbirds and muskrats as well as turtles and fish once flourished as many of us can personally attest.  Now this same area is infested with weeds, and without water, the major migratory bird habitat will not be as productive.  Dead clams and snapping turtles on a dried up river bottom are the consequence of the DNR trying to improve the habitat for these very animals, among others.

Fire Safety
In a natural setting, the weeds and grass will die and dry up like any other grassland.  How well will the Fire Department be able to fight a fire down on the river bed on a windy day, and protect adjoining homes?  A fire could burn off the cover on riverbanks.  Who will then stabilize the banks if there is a flood in this urban setting?  With a pond reservoir this has never been a concern.

Where could we go instead?

In our 9-18-2007 City Council presentation (included in the correspondence section of this website) we present a constructive vision of how the reservoir could be improved for the long term benefit of the environment and the general public.  The existing island could also form the basis for a trail system through the City of Windom which would be a unique way of reconnecting people with the river.


This website is created by stakeholders committed to public safety, the protection of public and private property, and the restoration of the pond and wetland environment severely damaged last year.  The “Save the Windom Dam” group feels that we need to be both more proactive and protective of important city public infrastructure that serves important purposes.   We would kindly welcome help from anyone in this “Save the Windom Dam” project.  Please contact us at  or 507-831-3363 if you are interested in actively helping.  Finally, please review the contents of this website and tell your friends about this issue!