MOORESTOWN — As fish swam and turtles sunned themselves in a Missaukee County flooding, a small crew of workers took steps to drain the pond where the critters live.
A gas-powered generator and air compressor rumbled, a metal cutting tool shrieked and birds sang overhead.
The earthen dike at Cannon Creek No. 2 is no longer safe, according to a Department of Natural Resources assessment, said Vern Richardson, a wildlife biologist with the department who led the crew Monday morning. Trees grow along the edges of the dike, which isn't supposed to happen, he said.
Roots can give water a pathway to weaken and wash out the dike, and when trees die or fall over, they can yank out a section of the dike.
On Monday morning, Richardson and two wildlife assistants, Abby Schafer and Greta Simpson, started the piecemeal dismantling of the dam in a remote part of state land in Norwich Township.
They dug out underwater sediment that collected around the mouth of the dam, some of it the work of beavers.
A steel tube or culvert cuts under and through the middle of a dike, which doubles as the dead end of a state forest road.
A three-to-four foot wide circular steel dam controls the east-west flow of water through the culvert. Richardson, Schafer and Simpson lifted off a lid made out of chain link fencing, then used the power tools to starting cutting apart the steel dam. They cut six inches below the water level, so more water could draw down.
There aren't many dams like this one. Figuring out how to take it apart and cut steel underwater took some creative thinking. They practiced in a bucket beforehand, the crew said.
Rebuilding dams like this one is expensive, and another dam nearby was re-done recently.
So this one is going away for now.
Chances are, once the area turns back into a stream, beavers will come along someplace around there and dam it back up again. They've already shoved a bunch of sediment around the mouth of the dam, trying to dam up what water there is flowing between the east and west part of the flooding.
Initial steps to remove the dam began a couple years back when the DNR lowered the water level of the flooding. Now, with a Department of Environmental Quality permit posted on a tree nearby, and in consultation with the Fisheries Division, the DNR plans to lower the flooding another six inches every few days.
They can't just pull the dam out all in one go because too much sediment would wash downstream and fish might get stranded upstream.
By lowering the water level slowly, the fish will acclimate, finding deeper water.
Once the water level drops six inches, a result of Monday's work on the dam, Richardson and his crew will return and cut another six inches below the water level from the other half of the dam.
After they've drawn down as much water as they can, heavy equipment will begin removing the dike. Richardson estimated that stage of the project will begin in June.