The fish population in the Manistee River will get a refreshing burst of cooler water as the days get hotter.
Consumers Energy installed an upwelling system in the reservoir behind Tippy Dam to benefit downstream fish species that thrive in cold water, such as brown trout and Chinook salmon.
The $500,000 project allows dam operators to essentially lift water from the deeper, colder, portion of Tippy pond into the plant's intake area to provide cooler flows downstream.
Operators will activate the system during especially warm spells in the summer. In order to maintain a cold water supply, the "bubbler" will run only at night for six hours when needed. During initial testing in 2012, the system lowered downstream water temperatures two degrees. Design tests indicate it may be able to reduce the water temperature up to three degrees.
"Study after study has shown that trout and young salmon become stressed when river temperatures get much higher than 70 degrees," said Mark Tonello, fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "It may not sound like much, but a couple-degree reduction in water temperature can make a huge difference in keeping the temperature below that threshold and in making a river habitat hospitable to cold-water fish species."
Tonello points out that the upwelling system is the next step in river habitat improvements. Fish populations and anglers have been benefiting from Tippy Dam being operated by federal license agreement as run-of-river since 1994.
"The more steady flows that have resulted from run-of-river operations have provided a tremendous benefit and has allowed us to create an excellent year-round brown trout fishery below Tippy, and it has certainly improved Chinook salmon natural reproduction," said Tonello. "Efforts to keep the downstream flows cooler should improve the health of the fish even more, and in turn, make anglers happy."
The project at Tippy Dam includes the fabrication and installation of the system, an air compressor, a building to house the air compressor, as well as the computer modeling and design. It helps fulfill an agreement with state and federal resource agencies as part of the utility's new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license agreements for its 11 hydro generating facilities.
The enhancements are developed in consultation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition.
"Our hydro facilities are located in some of the most beautiful locations in Michigan, and at Consumers Energy we are proud to offer a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities on the properties surrounding our dams and reservoirs, including hiking, camping and fishing," said William Schoenlein, manager of hydro and renewable generation and plant manager of Ludington Pumped Storage.
"Working to improve river conditions is consistent with our goal of being good stewards of the natural resources we are blessed with in Michigan where our employees, families, friends and neighbors live, work and play."
Upwelling systems, similar to the one installed at Tippy Dam, have been installed at other Consumers Energy hydroelectric facilities on Michigan Rivers. The first was installed at Hodenpyl Dam upstream of Tippy Dam on the Manistee River in 2007. Systems were also installed at Mio Dam on the Au Sable River and Croton Dam on the Muskegon River in 2010.
In addition to investing in upwelling systems, Consumers Energy is required as part of its hydro licensing to annually fund an account the Michigan Department of Natural Resources administers to use for projects that benefit fish habitat.
In 2012, Consumers Energy provided the DNR's Fish Habitat Improvement Account $647,926 for fisheries research, habitat improvement and stream restoration activities. Highlights of the HIA work in 2012 include:
$130,000 to continue a study of the Muskegon River steelhead fishery downstream of Croton Dam.
$100,000 to remove a dilapidated bridge to prevent sediment from entering Yates Creek, a Pine River tributary that flows into the Manistee River
$42,236 for a creel survey on the Au Sable River to gauge stocking success
$40,000 to place woody structure in Bear Creek, a Manistee River tributary