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Low river flow prompts memories
Random Thoughts, July 6
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - Looking at the current low flow of water in our Wisconsin River and the resulting display of growing sandbars brings back memories of a time when there was an effort made to okay building a structure to stabilize the water level at Muscoda. The engineers who designed the structure referred to it as a “barrage.”

A Progressive news story in early 1960 was about a gathering in Madison when a group of local people who supported the idea was at a meeting of the Public Service Commission. The key witness, representing the Village of Muscoda, was the lead engineer of the firm that designed the proposed structure.

He testified that the promoters of the idea believed the proposed structure would “hold the river within the natural banks of the river and not flood any land not currently flooded at normal river flow.” He also pointed out that the structure would be designed to make a navigable pool when the river was at now stage but would have little affect at high stages and would also have little affect on upstream islands.

Testifying in favor of the project was Muscoda Village President B. J. Schwingle. The Wisconsin Conservation Department opposed the project.

Attending the meeting from Muscoda were Schwingle, Orville Froh, Mr. and Mrs. James Mathews and myself. Several representatives for neighboring counties were also present.

During the following months there were many more meetings. Of special interest was a large detailed model of the flowing river as it was at Muscoda. The model, located in Madison, on campus, was built by University of Wisconsin engineer students and staff to study possible silting and other concerns. Also included were conversations about a possible series of barrages downstream from Prairie du Sac.

Some upstream landowners voiced a fear if water was held back at Muscoda it might make their river bottom pastures too wet to pasture or for hay. Wisconsin Power and Light, which owned upstream land, opposed the project. George Knutson, Conservation Department Naturalist, thought higher water might be a problem for the 10,000 people a year he predicted would soon canoe the river. That figure was a bit hard to believe for local people. At that time, in the sixties, if more than two canoes were seen on the river at one time it was a reason for a second look.

Engineers who designed the barrage said it would be no problem for canoes at normal flows and just a bump during high waters. The project had support from area politicians but interest faded as a natural “wild-river” gained favor and the Public Service Commission sank the barrage idea.