DNR continues cleaning up the Portage Canal

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues cleaning up the Portage Canal this year, with dredging and related cleanup of a three-quarter mile-long segment of the canal located in the city of Portage.

Work crews have assembled near the Canadian Pacific Railroad Bridge and have raised the water level to allow for marine dredge equipment to access the canal.

As the dredging begins, it marks an essential step in the project. Dredging that was scheduled to begin last year was postponed when COVID-19 health precautions delayed the construction of the processing site and related preparations that needing completion before dredging could start. Crews completed those preparations last fall.

“The DNR remains committed to restoring the Portage Canal, and that commitment is on display with this season’s dredging and related cleanup work,” said Darsi Foss, DNR Environmental Management Division Director. “Strong partnerships with city leaders and an engaged community have been tremendously helpful in advancing this project.”

As the Portage Canal owner, the DNR is responsible for taking the necessary actions to address the historical contamination that impacted the canal. The project includes the canal cleanup and its preparation to support the future recreational path.

From Adams Street to just beyond the Canadian Pacific Railroad Bridge, the waterway has not been dredged in nearly a century. The canal is contaminated with metals related to the history of industrial activity along the canal.

“The city is looking forward to working with the DNR as the agency begins the next step in this project,” said Portage Mayor Rick Dodd. “Many partners in the public and private sectors have been working to get this next segment of the canal navigable again.”

The DNR’s cleanup and associated work is part of a larger plan to transform the Portage Canal area into a usable, local resource that places the Ice Age National Scenic Trail along the canal.

Completing the cleanup will support the city, its partners, including the Portage Canal Society, and the Department of Transportation efforts to construct a multi-use path, to be completed in 2022.

The project is a continuation of remediation work on the approximately 2.5-mile canal connecting the Wisconsin River to the Fox River. Previous work completed during the summer of 2016 included dredging Segment 1 of the canal, which coincided with the Columbia County Administration and the Health and Human Services buildings construction.

Photo: Wisconsin DNR