A look at Drayton Dam as project comes to an end

Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 6:44 PM CDT
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DRAYTON, N.D. (KFYR) - Fish often swim back upriver to spawn, but people can sometimes spoil things by building in the water. On the Red River near Drayton, the last low-head dam is being modified for public safety and to provide fish a passage.

“We really are modifying these dams for two purposes. Public safety, to reduce hydraulic roller and reduce drownings in these areas. From an environmental standpoint, we are trying to increase river connectivity, replace fill material with large rock and create steps for those fish to be able to migrate up,” said Bruce Kreft, North Dakota Game and Fish conservation supervisor.

Drayton Dam was an aging infrastructure, the last of eight low-head dams built on the Red River since the early 1900s.

“As biologists, we’re looking at the whole ecosystem, and given that this was the last dam to be modified on the Red River, the very farthest downstream dam, we felt that from an ecological system, the whole system view that this was the biggest, best mitigation for those impacts from Fargo diversion,” said Kreft.

Before this project took place, the dam was a barrier to fish.

“Connecting the upstream with the downstream, it allows various fish species to now cross and move further upstream at more times of the year and on more years when there’s low flow instead of high flow. It’s really allowing catfish, lake sturgeon, and all species really in the river to fulfill their life history, to fulfill what they are programmed by nature to do, to move upstream into those tributaries, to reproduce and spawn,” said Scott Gangl, NDGF fisheries supervisor

The rocks were strategically placed to create faster and slower currents where fish could move through or rest.

“Drayton Dam has always been a very popular fishing area. People would fish right below the dam. I think that it’ll still have a fish-attracting effect, but it’s going to provide more fishing opportunities upstream as well,” said Gangl.

This project was in the works for many years and there were many partners involved.

“The Corps of Engineers, Minnesota DNR, the Fargo Diversion, the city of Drayton,” said Kreft.

It was important for the city of Drayton to maintain a boat ramp and camping area near the dam for recreational users.