Rouge River (Michigan)

River Basin Characteristics

Rouge River

The Rouge River is a tributary to Lake Erie and discharges through a federally maintained navigation channel into the Detroit River at the City of Detroit. The Rouge River watershed covers approximately 438 square miles and includes portions of Wayne, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties. Approximately 1.5 million people in Southeast Michigan reside within the watershed and land uses are characteristic of a highly urbanized metropolitan area with residential, commercial, and industrial land uses making up over 50% of the watershed.

Landuse distribution in the Rouge River watershed

Within the Rouge River watershed, a low-head dam at Wayne Road in Wayne, Michigan, has been identified by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as adversely affecting the Rouge River fishery by prohibiting fish passage. Removal of the dam would help to reconnect the Rouge River Area of Concern to the Detroit River and Lake Erie ecosystem. As such, there is great local interest in removing this dam. However, there is concern that removing the dam will mobilize impounded sediment and cause biotic impairment to the downstream reaches and further increase dredging requirements in the downstream federal channel.

This study is intended to supplement a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency feasibility study by addressing potential impacts to sediment mobilization at and near the proposed dam removal site as well as downstream sedimentation impacts following the potential dam removal. The reach investigated by the Corps for this project is defined as the Lower Rouge River between Elizabeth Street (upstream) and Second Street (downstream).

Location of the Federal Navigation Channel at Rouge River outlet

Watershed soils in this stretch of the Rouge River include silt and sand followed by silt over armored construction materials upstream of the dam, and significant sand and gravel downstream of the dam. Streambank erosion is present in some areas downstream of the dam and existing bank erosion measures are already in place along this stretch of the river. The primary source and sediment mobilization is hydraulic shear stresses along the boundary of the river channel. Following dam removal, the water surface upstream of the dam will be drawn down to match a natural flow regime.


Rouge River at Wayne Road dam (looking upstream)

The Corps performed a geomorphic assessment of the Rouge River both upstream and downstream of the Wayne Road dam. This assessment may be used to calculate the volume of sediment stored in the impoundment and the aerial extent of this sediment. The post-dam change in hydraulic gradient was determined and sediment entrainment calculations were performed to determine the mobility of the impounded sediment.

The Rouge River project was completed in March 2011, along with a training workshop for state and local partners to learn to utilize the project outputs for various planning scenarios.

Use and Applications

Limits of Rouge River AOC

The baseline (current) conditions of the river morphology will be made available in the form of a RiverMorph file that local stakeholders may use to perform post-dam monitoring of sediment loads and morphologic changes. It is the intent of Corps that the baseline conditions developed as part of this work will assist in understanding the dynamics of this and other dam removal projects. Ultimately, by addressing the sediment issues caused by the dam removal, particularly associated with bank erosion of the incised channel, there will be a reduction in dredging requirements in the federal navigation channel, and this will promote a stable channel within the vicinity of the Lower River Rouge.

Project Partners

For More Information:


James P. Selegean, P.E., Ph.D.
Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Detroit District
477 Michigan Avenue
Detroit, MI 48226
Office: (313) 226-6791
Fax: (313) 226-2398

Calvin T. Creech, PE, LEED AP, CFM
Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Detroit District
477 Michigan Avenue
Detroit, MI 48226
Office: (313) 226-3002