The removal of the remnants of three hydroelectric dams on the Kalamazoo River near Plainwell, Otsego, and Allegan, Michigan, has been proposed. The benefits of this removal include returning the Kalamazoo River to its pre-dam flow, increasing recreational use and safety on the river, and improving aquatic habitat. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated this reach of the Kalamazoo River as a Federal Superfund site because of the historical discharge of papermill waste containing polychlorinated biphenyls. Much of this waste material remains concentrated in organic sediment and kaolinite clay deposited upstream from the three dam foundations. Sediment containing up to 150 milligrams per kilogram polychlorinated biphenyls could move if dam foundations are removed; therefore, it is necessary to estimate the characteristic and configuration of the sediment before work begins.
Data collected from augered sections and sediment cores show that impoundment sediments were deposited in two distinctly different sedimentary environments. Interbedded lacustrine sediments that overlie the pre-dam channel surface consist of organic-rich silt and clay, fine to medium sand, and some gravel. These materials were deposited in a repetitive, cyclic fashion related to former stream velocities when the impoundment water levels were 5-10 feet higher. Lowering of these water levels and demolition of the superstructures of these dams resulted in erosion of much of these instream lacustrine sediments and subsequent deposition of coarse-grained alluvium in the impounded channel behind the remaining dam foundations.
The composite thicknesses of the lacustrine deposits and overlying alluvium was determined from sediment cores collected from each impoundment. The volume of instream sediment contained in each impoundment is estimated to be about 77,600 cubic yards at the Plainwell impoundment; 268,900 cubic yards at the Otsego impoundment; and 1,192,600 cubic yards at the Trowbridge impoundment. Estimates do not include bank or flood-plain deposits.