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Posted on Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials announce temporary closure of popular Argo Cascades on Huron River

By Ryan J. Stanton


Tubers and kayakers alike enjoy the new Argo Cascades on the Huron River.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The popular Argo Cascades feature on the Huron River is closing until further notice, Ann Arbor officials said Wednesday afternoon.

In an email to City Council members, Sumedh Bahl, the city's community services area administrator, cited "low flow in the river" as the reason.

"To comply with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the MDNR minimum flow requirements across Barton and Argo dams, the low flow in the river has necessitated closing Argo Cascades," Bahl wrote in the email. "Presently it is planned to stop the flow through Cascades tomorrow morning. Staff will continue to monitor river flows and the flow will be restored to the Cascades when flow in the river improves."

In addition to kayaks, the city now rents tubes that members of the public can take for leisurely trips down the river from Argo to Gallup, starting at the cascades.

The city spent $1.17 million putting in the new cascading river feature, which includes a series of drop pools separated by rocky formations. It's been so popular that the City Council recently had to approve a contract to lease 40 extra parking spaces at a nearby property.

On recent weekend afternoons, dozens of tubers and kayakers at a time could be seen making their way down the cascades.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

The Argo Cascades have not been closed yet. Shot this video today


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 3:16 a.m.

amlive, Those boards have little effect. They need to completely close off the cascades. It is not 6 of on half dozen of another. The flow in the river takes precedent over a canoe channel both in common sense and the law. You cannot divert all of the flow from a major river for recreational purposes. In addition, I believe those boards are a serious hazard.


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 2:49 a.m.

I was down there this evening, and it looks like although they didn't block it off entirely they did drop a few boards in the entrance to drop the flow. Still about 4-6" flowing over the boards, but not as much as usual. That would explain the sudden drop in flow at the Wall Street gauging station this morning. I hadn't thought about it before, but stopping the entire flow to the Cascades may not be an option save for the most dire circumstances. I've caught a lot of smallmouth in those pools, and cutting it off to let it become stagnant pools would most likely trap and kill most of the fish in that stretch. 6 of one, half dozen of the other I guess. Barton dam seemed to have a reasonable flow coming through, though the water right below it was still and stagnant as I've ever seen it. Saw a few more carp carcass than usual as well (and a big snapper feasting on one of them).


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

I stopped by the cascades on my way to work this morning and again on my way back home. As of 3:30 this afternoon the Argo Cascades are still open. Right now the flow rate on the Huron is only 45 cfs with almost all of that diverted into the cascades. There is absolutely no flow in the mainstream of the Huron for the first 1/2 mile downstream from Argo Dam. Fish are trapped and some are dead. Since the cascades use about 60cfs, they should be closed anytime the stream flow is below 160cfs in order to maintain at least 100cfs over the dam. This is kind of a disaster.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

Lots of difference could be made. Right now they are holding back water at flook dam in order to maintain lake levels in the chain of lakes.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Yikes! I know the HRWC has been working to better coordinate flow rates through different communities / authorities along the river. If ever ther were an argument to expedit the process, this is it. I wonder how much difference could be made under circumstances like this by more strategically controlling the flow.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Had to get out and drag the kayak over several low spots between Delhi and Gallop last weekend. There was so much ((man-made CO2 caused) vegatation along the river now the City should include a free weed-whacker with every boat rental. Seriously, wouldn't it be possible to oxygenate (Ozone) the waterway like aquarium owners do their fishtanks to help eradicate some of that excess greenery and support the fishstock?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

I think we can all agree this is Obama's fault.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

I'll add, and I'm not making a connection mind you, just an observation......but ever since RichRod was fired it seems we either get too much rain or not enough.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

I was going to go with Zingerman's or perhaps Mary Sue Coleman, to keep it local.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

not so fast buster. Romney has been outsourcing rain for years. That's why he won't release his tax returns.

Brigid Kowalczyk

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:38 p.m.

Just when I was going to join the fun! Maybe we'll get some rain soon.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

We just did a night kayak from Barton to Gallup. One of the more enjoyable paddles I've done in a long time. Argo pond is quite beautiful at night with the city as a backdrop. The cascades are even more thrilling at night. It's true, the water was so low around Fuller park and below the helicopter landing pads that we had to walk a bit in the river. Scared up lots of fish. In fact one jumped right in the boat. But I wouldn't let my kids swim below Argo. The posters that have actually seen what comes out of Allen Creek are right: nasty, nasty water. A city sewer in every sense of the word. In a kayak or canoe there's limited contact with the water, but I surely wouldn't want to immerse myself in it.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

Couldn't agree with you more. There is a reason you see fisherman in this stretch of river always wearing waders even if the water temp is 80 degrees.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

But where can I find the flasher??

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Bertha, maybe this scared him off....too bad, I was enjoying reading about him. long live nature boy!!!!

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

yeah, we miss the well-written stories about Nature Boy!!

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Well. I guess you're right there. It isn't pretty being easy.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Once a cougar, always a cougar. [wink]

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Does the city have the authority to close the river? Under what powers? I am curious.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

"The city diverted water from the river for the cascades. ' Thanks ribs1, that is the clarification I was looking for.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Craig, go see the Cascades. Absolutely cool. If you grew up here and ever slid down the old spillway you will find this to be a BIG improvement. The city nailed it on this feature!


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

The cascades are not just rocks in the river. The city diverted water from the river for the cascades. I encourage everyone to go check this feature out. As stated in the article, the city is required to close the cascades if the flow over the dam falls below 100 cfs.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

I have never seen the cascades. Are they not just "rocks" in the river? Or did the city divert some water from the normal river bed? As i read the story they are NOT required to close the cascades. They are required to maintain minimum flow requirements across Barton and Argo dams. That is what they are required to do. The result may be low water flow that essentially makes the cascades unusable. But if the cascades are "rocks in the river" my question stands. By closing the cascades are they closing the river? If so under what authority?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

There are closing the argo cascades. Not the river. Not only does the city have the authority to close the Argo cascades, they are required by the Michigan DNR and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to do so.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

are they just closing the parking lot?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

Now if the city council would have looked farther down river than 10ft they would have realized this could have been made into an *amazing* urban whitewater park, a HUGE draw for kayakers/boaters around the great lakes area... IMO, it is only a matter of time before some dumb and/or drunk tuber flips over backwards and hits their head on a rock, sues, and its closed for everyone... It's amazing how many young kids who don't look like they can swim well at all go down this withOUT any PFDs...

Kenneth Nowicki

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 8:43 a.m.

Some might find this interesting. There also is an old black and white photo somewhere on the net that I have seen before of Argo beach.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:03 a.m.

Kenneth, thanks for the link to Then and Now. Great old photos of Ann Arbor

Lemmy Caution

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:02 a.m.

I'm really enjoying this well-informed discussion. Many thanks to the hydrologically literate folk for participating. So nice to see that the water's clear of trolls so far. Allow me to ask some questions that I've been waiting for this newspaper to address... Because of the new Cascades feature, I've seen a lot more people in the water (I mean IN THE WATER) than ever before. It used to be brave souls jumping off the railroad bridge into the area near the dam. Now I see "tubing" that becomes swimming in the Cascades and some swimming up by the sport boat dock in Bandemer Park. What's up with the toxicity of this water? Is it bad for the skin, the eyes, or what? Is it ok to dunk in it (falling off a tube, say)? Is to okay to swim for exercise in it? In my 15 years in the area, I've never seen so many folks IN the water here. I was under the impression that it was just jam-packed with animal "run-off" and scary chemicals and other bad bad stuff, and that we had to go to Lake Pinckney and such places to swim safety. Please advise. Will it always be unsafe? If so, why? Is it true that this is the most studied river (environmentally speaking) on God's green earth, because of the proximity of universities and their biologies classes...?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

hey Ross,


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

Um, so where is this lake Pinckney, exactly? :)


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

Safe swinning, eh?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 6:15 a.m.

Edit : upstream OF Honey Creek, not on it.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 6:13 a.m.

I've regularly swam in this river as long as I've lived here (about 12 years), and these are the simple rules I follow. One, I don't trust the water downstream of Allen Creek. Go down there and look at the green cloudy water and trail of crayfish carcasses if you need to see why. Two, I prefer a few swimming holes upstream on Honey Creek. I know there have been som bad problems with E. coli there in the past, plus I still just don't trust anything coming from by the Pall/ Gelman plant. Three, don't swim after a rain. That's when all the nasty stuff washes down, but given a day or two the river can clean itself up quite nicely. Four, never wade with bare feet. The water really isn't that bad. But the riverbed is sadly littered with broken glass and other nasty pointy things. And finally, just like any surface water in the state, there's always going to be some level of bacteria, cryptosporidium, giardia, and other bugs that can mess you up, so of course try not to swallow much water. This is true for natural water body you'll swim in, and I don't think it's any worse in the Huron, but just throwing it in there. I think the Huron may actually be in better shape than a lot of other rivers, because comparatively speaking we don't really have that much industry or agriculture along its banks. The majority of the watershed really seems to be filled with residential, which tend to pollute less than factories, corn fields, and pig farms. I'm not an expert on this, but to the best of my understanding the Huron is pretty clean as far as southern Michigan rivers go.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

Go north to the Pere Marquette my friends! You can actually drink the water you are traversing.

Kevin M

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

Perhaps on the weekends, but driving a few hours in rush hour traffic to get some weeknight kayaking in doesn't sound fun when you have the Huron river 10 minutes or less from your house.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

I am from the Pere Marquette area BUT driving 2.6 hours to Kayak is not always convenient, it is very cool to have this feature in town....stop being so sound like you are Troy


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:57 a.m.

Gasp! That would require the residents here to leave the bubble! Go anywhere 3 hours north and you will find yourself a good river and less people.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

Does anyone have numbers of how much water the city draws from the river upstream from here? With the current flow rate of around 75cfs, it wouldn't surprise me if we're pulling as much (or more) water out than we're letting run through.

Rork Kuick

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

85% of 14 million gallons per day is about 18.4 cfs I get. That is an average day though. I don't know how large the demand gets in hot dry weather. I also can't tell how much of that water gets returned to the river lower down.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 9:36 a.m. according the the link above A2 14 million gallons a day from the Huron. 85% of A2 water comes from the Huron


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

This is a good question. I also would really like to find out how much water is drawn out of Barton Pond for drinking water.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at all the cynicism, but just to counter a few points - Overall this part of the river is quite clean and safe. I wouldn't recommend swimming immediately below the dam, as Allen Creek which enters there is absolutely nasty - essentially all city surface runoff (go look at it in person and you'll see what I mean). And of course I wouldn't recommend too much contact in the first day or two after a rain due to all the runoff coming in, but for the most part the Huron water is quite clean and safe. I've never actually heard of anyone getting sick from contact with this water. As to being of limited use, that's not been my experience at all. I've been down there on average at least 3-4 times a week through spring and summer, and it has been packed nearly every day. The whole park area including cascades, pond, and trails seem to have seen far more use this year than I've ever seen in years past. The flow of the cascades is solely dependent on pond level, so it doesn't typically go up or down regardless of the river flow. It is set up to flow at I believe 60cfs whether the river is flowing at 100 or 4000cfs. I suppose it's possible for it to get a bit higher if the pond level is allowed to rise, but even at near flood stage they typically just adjust the flow at the dam and keep the pond at a constant level, leaving the Cascades always the same (except for that last drop which needs some adjustment). Right now is an exception, as the flow rate is so low due to low rain and restricted flow from dams upstream to raise other pond/lake levels which were allowed to fall. Because of this, Argo pond is actually a few inches low right now and so the Cascades flow is lowered as well, but this is not typical even in an average dry season. It makes sense to close of the Cascades flow right now due to these extreme circumstances, but this (hopefully) should be a rare event.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 5:23 a.m.

Thank you very much for clarifying that. I'll try to do better to check my certainty on things like this before speaking. ;)


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:03 a.m.

I am sure. Kent Lake dam and Flook (Portage Lake) dam are lake level control dams. Barton, Argo, Geddes and Superior dam are run of the river dam as mandated by Ferc and the MDNR.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

Are you sure about that? Perhaps you're right, but I was previously under the impression that Argo's gates were set to regulate pond level more so than river flow. The HRWC released an article today related to this specifically, indicating there are some conflicting regulations here, but that ones mandating constant lake level are often followed above those regarding river flow. This pond was not specifically mentioned, and I'm assuming ponds surrounded by private homes generally see more pressure to maintain level than Argo would, so perhaps you're right. Of course proof is in the pudding, and it's certainly low now with little chance of quick recovery unless we get some real rain, but I do hope this is a rare occurance. Last I checked the flow rate was 75cfs, which is rediculously low, and I would think they could keep the Cascades running at anything 100-120 or above. Let's just hope for some rain I guess.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

They do not keep the pond at a constant rate. That would be against the law. Both Argo and Barton dam are run of the river dams as mandated by Ferc and the MDNR. These are not lake level control dams. I did not mean to suggest that the cascades would be of limited use. Clearly a lot of people are using this new feature. I meant to suggest that the Cascades would often be closed either because of low flow or high flow. We are seeing the effects of low flow now.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

As many predicted these cascades will have very limited use. Because of all the dams, the Huron is very flashy pretty much never running at normal flow rates. For many years this river has either been way too low, or way to high. We are now seeing the effects of very low flow rates. Once we get lots of rain again, the cascades will be closed because of dangerous conditions.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

Obviously the natural run of the river would not be restored along it's entire length, but only in the stretch that is currently Argo Pond. It's a start. What "negative impacts" would be the result of removing the dam? How would this be different than the removal of the dam on Mill might want to check out the success of that project or many others throughout the state.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

z-man, removing the dam would not "restore the natural flow of the river" because there's just more dams downstream of Argo. In order to go back to a completely natural flow, every dam in MI would need to be removed, which is just unrealistic. At this point Argo has been there long enough that all the organisms/wildlife in that area have adapted to it and it's a new stable ecosystem. Removing it would have way more negative impacts than leaving it in


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

Also, because the low river flow is now split between the river itself and the cascade, there is even less water flowing through the natural riverbed itself. So, instead of removing the Argo Dam like they should have in the first place to restore the natural course of the river, they created two branches, neither of which gets sufficient flow in low-water conditions such as those we're currently experiencing. And as Ribs1 points out, the Cascades can also experience problems when the flow is high! And now they're talking about installing "whitewater features" on the section of the river that the Cascades bypasses? Really?


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 11:53 p.m.

Maybe prescription of Flowmax might help?


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

The approximately 1/2 mile stretch of river between the dam and the confluence with the cascades has had no flow for weeks now. The cascades should have been closed a while ago. Pretty much all the game fish and forage fish are already gone because of these cascades already so it doesn't really matter at this point. This project really wasn't though through to begin with. I wonder if all those tubers realize that the water in this section of river isn't really safe for human skin contact. Ever walk around on the soccer and baseball fields in this area? Then you know all about the goose droppings everywhere. Ever bushwhack around the woods in this area? Then you know about all the homeless encampments with no restroom facilities. What do you think happens to all of this feces when it rains? It all washes into this section or river.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

I did notice some of the campers from ctn have moved in. Goose poo is no biggie as what does a Goose eat? Grass. But people poo and dog poo, nasty!


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

what is this rain you mention?


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 11:19 p.m.

Low flow... I would have thought disease-ridden water.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:04 p.m.

Stay home. More room for the rest of us non paranoid water lovers.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

Dude, I've tubed down the river like 10 times this year alone, and minus a few beer induced scrapes n cuts none of that ever happened to me.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Vote me down all you want, but our family went tubing in the cascades and my daughter came down with pneumonia a few days later, my son had a terrible rash on his legs, and the shores are covered with goose feces. We used to mountain bike in the river near the arb many years ago and there would be a clear sticky film on your shoes, tires and bike that needed to be scrubbed off with stiff brushes.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 11:32 a.m.

I'd agree. It smells like a septic tank. I wouldn't fish or swim in that toilet bowl, ever.