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Contact: Scott Inman, DNR Water Resources Engineer or 608-576-491

DNR Begins Dredging And Cleanup Of Three-Quarter Mile Segment Of Portage Canal

Work Crews Continue After Safety Precautions Lifted

An image of dredging at the Portage Canal in March 2021. The ceremonial first bucket of dredging at the Portage Canal took place in March 2021. Photo credit: Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. – 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. All are excited to see this cleanup begin in earnest in 2021. We appreciate and would like to thank all those within the DNR and our state and local representatives for making this happen and investing in Portage’s history.”

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.            

For more information about the Portage Canal cleanup, visit the DNR’s Remediation and Redevelopment Tracking System and enter 02-11-577055 in the “BRRTS No.” search field.