Restoring the Hydrological Functions of the Dowagiac River
The Dowagiac River and its wetlands have long been a significant hunting, gathering, and settlement area for the Potawatomi. The name “Dowagiac” is an adaptation of the Potawatomi description for “a place to hunt, fish and forage.” True to the tribal culture of respect for Mother Earth, the band has endeavored to heal historic impacts created by the channelization of the Dowagiac River.
In 2012, the Pokagon Band Department of Natural Resources received grant money to create a plan to restore the Dowagiac River along the lands the tribe owns in Pokagon Township. Working with Inter-Fluve, Inc. out of Madison, Wisconsin, an assessment report was created to determine the current condition of the Dowagiac River in the study area and possible restoration options.
In the mid to late 1800s, prospectors and settlers were interested in reclaiming land around the Dowagiac River to increase property values. Furthermore, from 1901 to 1928 the Dowagiac River was straightened, lowered, and channelized to drain the surrounding wetlands, making land more suitable for agriculture. In the study area, much of the original floodplain is still present, but due to the lowering and straightening of the river, all of the niche habitats and hydrologic functions that native fish, plant, and animal species adapted to was changed. By restoring the meanders and lifting the river bottom back to its original channel depth, the hydrologic function in the study area can be restored, leading to improved conditions for native species to thrive.
To move forward in restoring the hydrological function, the project has to meet the need to not burden neighboring landowners or to create unwanted changes. To assess this, Inter-Fluve, Inc. constructed a hydraulic model using HEC-RAS software and a topographic/bathymetric survey to test the current condition and the effects that the restoration changes would have to the floodplain and surrounding lands. Results of the modeling effort can be found in the Dowagiac River Assessment Report.