Great Depression- era, 1932-built dam replaced with natural, rock-stone rapids

An overhead view of Pelican Lake’s Fish Lake dam removal. Note rock and stone installations that control the water flow, while also providing natural passage for fish and aquatic species.
Final completion of the Fish Lake Dam removal and rock and stone installation project is expected by late summer 2018.
The Fish Lake Dam is on the south end of the Pelican Lake chain.
These before and after photos show the archaic dam structure, and the rock-arch rapids that are being installed at the Fish Lake Dam site–which hold the water similar to the aging dam, but allow free flow and fish passage.
It was a frigid day for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Fish Lake Dam site on the Pelican Lake Chain. Work began on the dam modification project Feb. 7, and continued over the course of the winter. Among those pictured here at the February Fish Lake dam gathering include Jay Elshaug, Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District; Bert McDonough, PGOLID; Dave Haarstad, PGOLID; Moriya Rufer, RMB Lab; Luther Aadland, DNR; Jim Wolters, DNR; Ben Shane, property manager; Mike Buerkley, Houston Engineering; Mike Pepin, property manager and Erik Jones, Houston Engineering.

With spring here, Pelican Lake ice gone, and the water flowing–work is picking back up on the Fish Lake dam modification project.

When completed by late summer of 2018, the former dam blockage will allow the free passage of fish and aquatic species up and down stream.

In late 2016, the Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District (PGOLID) was awarded a Conservation Partners Legacy Grant from the DNR for funding to complete a modification of the Fish Lake Dam into a Rock Arch Rapids Fishway.

This type of structure is a long-term fix to a failing dam and is more favorable to passage and habitat of fish and wildlife species.

Construction on this project began in February of 2018. The old dam structure was not removed, but just cut down and rock was placed around it. As of early April 2018, the first rock weir is set and will mimic how the dam functioned before the modification. Pelican Lake water levels will fluctuate similar to how they have in the past.

What’s left to complete are setting the remaining rock steps of the fish passage.

When the full fish passage is completed, the stream banks will be seeded so vegetation can grow back and stabilize the area. The project is scheduled to be completed by late summer 2018.

The original Fish Lake Dam, located near Dunvilla on the Pelican River, was built in 1932 for the purpose of maintaining consistent water levels in Pelican Lake. This dam has a long and storied history, including numerous partial washouts and patches, which caused drops in lake water levels of Pelican Lake and have left the dam in deteriorating shape. The US Fish and Wildlife Service also contributed funding from their Fish Passage program. PGOLID is working with Houston Engineering for survey, design and oversight of the project.

The Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District (PGOLID) is a taxing entity of lake property owners on Pelican, Little Pelican, Bass and Fish Lakes. To read more about PGOLID visit their website at

Any questions about this project can be directed to Moriya Rufer, RMB Environmental Laboratories Inc., Aquatic Ecologist and Lake Coordinator for PGOLID, 218-846-1465,