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Photos: Rare drawdown of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis attracts hundreds

The river was about 12 feet lower than normal, exposing riverbeds and pieces of history.
The drawdown of the Mississippi River exposed more of the riverbed and pieces of history, including the foundation of a dam built in the 1870s and a former wagon bridge. 

The drawdown of the Mississippi River exposed more of the riverbed and pieces of history, including the foundation of a dam built in the 1870s and a former wagon bridge. 

People flocked to the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday to get a rare look at what the river used to look like

The Mississippi River between the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam was about 12 feet lower than normal, revealing what the river looked like before the locks and dams were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The drawdown allowed a portion of the river to return to its natural flow with the rapids that were once present from St. Anthony Falls to the Minnesota River, the Mississippi Park Connection said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the locks and dams, doesn't often lower the river levels (the last time it did was in 2008), so this offered a rare chance for people to see a piece of history and explore the Upper St. Anthony Lock – and they didn't skip the opportunity.

"This has been a huge draw," Shannon Bauer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, told Bring Me The News on Wednesday, although she didn't have exact attendance numbers. "We have seen hundreds of people at our site, as well as along the riverbank."

That wasn't unexpected though, with Bauer saying they anticipated the crowds. The last time the Corps of Engineers lowered the river was in January 2008 – it was 30 or 40 below-zero and 500 people still showed up to see it, Bauer said.

With the water levels lower, the Stone Arch Bridge looks much taller and the drawdown exposed the 10th Avenue wagon bridge and portions of William de la Barre's 1879 dam foundation (see photos in the gallery below), . 

It also revealed some modern marvels – at least three electric scooters were discovered when the water levels were lowered, Bauer confirmed. 

Here's what the river looked like on Tuesday afternoon:

To lower the river level, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the dam gates at the lower lock (built in 1956) earlier this week to allow the river level between the upper and lower lock to drop from 750 feet to about 738 feet.

The river level hit the 738-foot mark on Tuesday, Bauer said, and they plan to keep the water level at about 738 feet on Wednesday, before gradually allowing the river to return to normal levels later this week.

The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam (built in 1963) opened to the public on Tuesday and will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday as well. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn't just lower the river levels for people to see history – it did so to inspect parts of the lock that are normally underwater to ensure it is in good working condition and can safely perform when it's needed. (The lock was closed to navigation in 2015, but it is still sometimes used to help reduce flood risk.)

"We are going through the inspection checklist, and the structures appear to be similar to during the last inspection," Bauer said, which was in 2015. "There were no surprises. Some wear and tear, but we expect that and schedule maintenance accordingly."

The inspection will also allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better inform potential future owners of the lock to know what to expect since the government is looking into getting rid of the lock. The corps has been studying a partial disposition of the upper lock where it would retain operation and maintenance of the lock's flood risk management, but other portions would be available for disposition and redevelopment, documents show

Nan Bischoff, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told KARE 11 two entities are interested in keeping the site open – the City of Minneapolis, whose water supply is four miles upstream, and Xcel Energy, which has hydropower operations in the area.  

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