by Scott Russell
Call it a water competition, or
perhaps the Mississippi River
Three hydro power plants - one
existing and two proposed - want
to divert some of the Mississippi flow
through Downtown. However,
hydropower comes at a price - and
not just on your utility bills.
Water sent through turbines can
reduce recreational opportunities
and even the river\'s beauty. City leaders
are concerned there might not be
enough water flowing over historic
St. Anthony Falls to make it look like
a falls. Meanwhile, canoe and kayak
enthusiasts need a torrent, not a
trickle, to create a whitewater park
It\'s a balancing act.
The three hydro plants would produce
only a fraction of the region\'s
energy demand - at most, roughly 2
percent of Xcel\'s Prairie Island
nuclear plant output. Yet the hydro
plants are conveniently located in
the middle of what energy wonks
call \"the load center.\" Hydropower is
renewable; every kilowatt produced
means fewer greenhouse gas emissions
from coal-burning plants or
other sources. And it provides a set
of jumper cables; one advocate noted
that if a blackout hits, power companies
use hydropower to restart the
However, the river\'s nonenergy
uses are gaining importance.
The river and the falls are central
to the city\'s history as a lumber and
mill town; the Minneapolis Park and
Recreation Board is developing Mill
Ruins Park on the riverfront, excavating
old tailrace canals that powered
the mills. The Minnesota Historical
Society just opened the Mill City
Museum. Meanwhile, new condo
owners are paying big rents and hefty
property taxes to enjoy a picturesque
view, with the proposed whitewater
park another riverfront lure.
Some months, the Mississippi is
mighty enough to satisfy all comers.
The Mississippi\'s flow can become so
powerful - above 40,000 cubic feet
per second (cfs) - that the Army
Corps of Engineers halts river traffic
as unsafe. On April 15, 2001, the
spring thaw sent 65,046 cfs through
the lower falls, according to the
Corps. The river hit 91,000 cfs in the
flood of 1965, the highest on record,
a Corps spokesperson said.
However, low flows and anemic
falls, typically in the summer, coincide
with peak tourist season at the
Stone Arch Bridge and the historical
On Sept. 3, the river was at 2,300
cfs. For comparison, Xcel\'s St. Anthony
plant alone would typically use
4,000 cfs, a company spokesperson
said. A new plant, Crown Hydro,
could also draw 500 to 1,000 cfs from
The water battle is as old as the
mills, said Steve Lenhart, lockmaster
for the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock
\"Everybody wants the water. That
is part of the big history of the falls,\"
he said.\" At one time, there were 40
mills here at the same time. Can you
imagine if you had 40 mills here?
Who gets the water? Who doesn\'t?
Who goes home? Who goes out of
\"Here we are again - low water,\"
Lenhart said. \"Every time there is
low water, people say, \'Oh, geez, the
falls are dried up.\' \'Oh, we can\'t generate
electricity.\' \'Oh, we can\'t lock
boats.\' \'Oh, Mill Ruins Park doesn\'t
have any flow going though it; it is
getting stale.\' Everybody wants it.\"
Inside this issue is a primer on the
various power plant plans and possible
effects on other uses.