Those Dammed Wisconsin Rivers
According to the
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state’s first dam was built in
1809 to provide power for a sawmill on the Fox River
near De Pere. Christine Macy’s book Dams
features a number of notable Wisconsin dams in its collection of 800 historical
and contemporary photographs of dams built in America between the 1930s and the
1970s. One unique work of engineering featured in the book is the Cedar Falls
Dam on the Red Cedar River in northern Dunn County.
During the 19th century,
the Red Cedar River served as a logging run for the largest lumber producer in
the country, the Menomonie-based Knapp, Stout & Co. According to Macy, the
river was dammed in Menomonie as early as 1848, and a similar wood-crib
structure upstream at Cedar Falls powered a sawmill.
In the 1890s, growing
industrial demand for electrical power inspired investors to build
hydroelectric dams that hold back and divert a river’s flow through a
powerhouse. In basic terms, the falling water runs through propeller-like
turbines, causing them to rotate. The rotation of these turbines spins
generators to produce electricity. The volume of water flow and the height from
the water surface at the dam reservoir to the water surface downstream largely
determine the amount of electricity generated from each unit.
In 1910, the original dam in Cedar Falls was replaced with a concrete structure 510 feet long and 65 feet high. With the exception of new generators installed in 1912 and 1915, it has remained largely unchanged. Xcel Energy, a public utility company based in Minneapolis, currently owns the Cedar Falls Dam, and operates a modified run-of-the-river hydroelectricity project, which impounds Tainter Lake and generates 6.8 megawatts of hydroelectric power.