Fish that were blocked for 60 years can swim up this river again

Undoing some 1950s engineering also reduces erosion

Imagine if the most romantic places you know were suddenly made off-limits by construction of a concrete wall. 

That's a little like what happened to the fish that live in the Red River of the North back in the 1950s. 

It was a time when Americans thought they could improve their rivers by straightening them and trying to control drainage. In northwestern Minnesota that meant putting concrete drop structures – which are a little like dams – in the Sand Hill River.

The Sand Hill is a tributary of the Red and fish who swam upstream to a gravelly area found spawning beds that were just about perfect for them. Until those big concrete things blocked the way. 

But there may soon be a resurgence of underwater romance on the Sand Hill because Minnesota has now removed the concrete drops and replaced them with something that lets fish pass and also cuts down on erosion.

Rock riffles

What's changed on the Sand Hill? Rocks. 

The Minnesota DNR says lining the riverbed and the shoreline with new rocks in certain places allowed the state to take out the concrete drops that were blocking fish and adding to erosion. 

The new parts are called rock riffles and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a more thorough explanation of the project here

You can also see some of them on this video taken by a drone that flew over the Sand Hill.

The project took years but it's finally done now. 

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources calls it "a shining example of collaboration and partnerships" because it involved eight different funding sources and even more partners, including 100 landowners. 

What's the benefit? They put it this way: 

"The result ... will be a more fishable, swimmable river system, with cleaner water, more suitable fish habitat and connectivity, and the restoration of a small watershed’s legacy in the Red River Valley. "

And there's that underwater romance, too. 

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