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Lawsuit means closer public scrutiny of St. Croix Falls dam

Closer public scrutiny of the operation of the St. Croix Falls hydroelectric dam is the result of a lawsuit filed and settled on the same day.

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 7 by the River Alliance of Wisconsin against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over a new memorandum of understanding between the DNR and Xcel Energy.

The new memorandum, among other things, provides for the free flow of water through the dam.

The suit was filed because the memorandum was not open for public comment, according to Denny Caneff, executive director of the WRA.

"Normally a memorandum of understanding is carefully regulated and there is a chance for public comment," Caneff said.

"The DNR agreed that they must notify the river stakeholders of any change in the memorandum of understanding," he added.

Caneff said the stakeholders in this case include various state and federal agencies, the WRA and the St. Croix Band of the Chippewa.

"These groups would be notified of any changes in dam operation," Caneff said.

He added, "Without our suit no one would have known about any changes or about how Xcel was running the dam. That's the big one for us."

Under the new memorandum Xcel has agreed to allow for a near-natural flow rate through the dam and to continue to fund the operation of a U.S. Geological Survey gauge located just below the dam, according to Caneff.

"Basically, no water will be held back above the dam," Caneff said. "There is the same amount of water above the dam as there is below it."

The free flow of water is important, Caneff said, because without it there would be an adverse effect on wildlife in the lower St. Croix River.

"We were especially concerned about the Winged Mapleleaf Mussel," Caneff said.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the lower St. Croix River contains one of only three remaining populations of the mussel which was once widespread throughout Midwestern rivers.

However, zebra mussels and dams have caused the mussel to become listed as an endangered species.

Brady Bautch is the Internet Publisher for the RiverTown Newspaper Group and can be reached at