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Cornwall dam water levels to be drawn down due to safety concerns

A map of Cornwall Flooding Creek
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
A map of Cornwall Flooding Creek

The Cornwall Flooding Dam in Cheboygan County has been around for nearly 60 years. It’s a go-to for wildlife recreationists, but the impoundment is considered a “high hazard” dam, which poses a risk to nearby homes and downstream infrastructure.

That’s why the state - which owns the dam - will begin drawing down water levels later this year, eventually draining Cornwall Flooding entirely.

Tim Cwalinksi is with the fisheries unit at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He said slowly releasing water will take pressure off the weakened levee and address safety concerns - while the state figures out whether to rebuild or remove the dam.

“Just like your driveway or roof... infrastructure gets old," Cwalinski said. "At some point, it's gotta get either removed or replaced. In this case, we were hoping to replace the old dam, but we've been falling short of finding those funds, trying to turn over every rock.”

Cwalinski said no official decision has been made on the dam’s future, but it would take a “miracle” to save the impoundment.

“There's a lot of money out in the world for removing dams, but there's essentially no money for rebuilding dams because dams are a liability," Cwalinski said. "We didn’t want to get to that route. We tried doing it the other way, but we're fighting and failing.”

The Cornwall dam is one of 200 state-owned dams that are being reviewed to check for potential environmental, social, and financial risks.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.