Little Falls Dam Design and Construction

Posted By: Marty Kemps Awards,

2021 Engineering Excellence Best of State

Entering Firm: Mead & Hunt Inc.
Client: Division of Facilities Development & Management
Owner: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The Little Falls Dam is a 104-year-old structure and a core part of Willow River State Park. Before Wisconsin DNR breached the dam in a controlled manner to prevent bursting, the dam’s reservoir provided a wide range of recreation activities and animal habitats.

Replacing a Historic Structure

Mead & Hunt developed a plan for this historic structure. While most dams in the country are now demolished when they reach the end of their lifespan, the client and design team determined to replace the Little Falls Dam. This would restore the reservoir’s benefits. The team to design a structure that could withstand a 1,000 year flood event. The new structure was reinforced and control gates were expanded to allow more water to flow through in an emergency.

A New Structure for Environmental Stewardship

Environmental concerns were also high on the list of priorities. An intake tower and slide gate were installed to allow park staff to control the temperature of discharged water, providing a healthier habitat for trout and other river species. The structure itself does a better job as preventing overflows which protects the environment and downstream residents.

Awards judge Mark Kruser said “This project achieves multi-faceted improvements utilizing state-of-the art engineering and good old ingenuity to improve the environmental quality of the lake, including improved management over the water quality, improving fish habitat and the lake’s recreational opportunities.”

Revitalizing the Natural Environment

The new Little Falls Dam is expected to last another 70 years which means that everyone and everything will be able to enjoy its environment for a very long time. It offers comprehensive flood protection downstream and many recreation options in its reservoir.

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