Echo Lake Dam


December 6, 2022 Common Council Vote

Resolution 5214(52) to approve Dam Modification as the Echo Lake Dam Spillway Compliance Project was unanimously approved by the Common Council on December 6, 2022 with a vote of  8-0.

Referendum Results

The November 8, 2022 Referendum results are as follows: 

Dam Removal & River Restoration (Option 1):
1805 (40.4%)
Dam Modification & Lake Restoration (Option 2):
2665 (59.6%)

This referendum was the culmination of nearly two years of study, reporting, community engagement, designing, and concept planning for the Echo Lake Dam Spillway Compliance project. Based on the outcome of this referendum, staff has provided the Council with a resolution to confirm their support for a spillway compliance project for their November 15, 2022 and December 6, 2022 Council meetings. Staff requires this direction in order to proceed with project design. The resolution was crafted with the default option supporting the most popular referendum choice, Option 2 Dam Modification, as the project of preference.

Project Animation Videos

The links below show animated videos of both the Dam Removal & River Restoration Project and the Dam Modification & Lake Restoration Project. Please note these are large files that will need to be downloaded, which could take time.

Dam Removal & River Restoration Video

dam removal animationView Video

Dam Modification & Lake Restoration Video

dam modification animationView Video

3D Interactive Panoramic Project Renderings

The links below are an interactive 3D rendering of the two different projects – Dam Modification and Dam Removal. Each project has several points of view where you can pan the camera to experience different locations within each
MyLumion instructions

Dam Removal & River Restoration

Dam Modification & Lake RestorationPresentation Boards-reduced_Page_3

November 8, 2022 Referendum

Echo Dam Referendum Flyer_Page_2 Referendum Fact Sheet

As part of the Echo Lake Dam Spillway Compliance project there was discussion regarding a referendum to measure the interest of the electorate on which spillway compliance option they prefer. 

A referendum is an election validating or ratifying a question submitted to the electorate, in this case the City of Burlington residents. Referendums can either be binding or advisory. A binding referendum is an election where there is a statutory or local requirement that makes it binding i.e., exceeding levy limits, where the law-making body must follow the outcome of the electorate. An advisory referendum allows the Common Council discretion to follow the recommendation of the electorate, but it is not required. An advisory referendum also provides flexibility to pursue a project where the exact costs are not known, such as when a project is conceptual, has not been fully designed, or has not yet been bid. In regard to the Echo Lake Dam Spillway Compliance project an advisory referendum is appropriate, and the preferred method based on the project cost information available.

On August 16, 2022, the Council approved referendum questions that will be placed on the November 8, 2022 General Election ballot. The referendum questions are as follows: 

Echo Lake Dam needs significant repairs in order to make the dam comply with state law. The city has received one million dollars ($1,000,0000) in grant funding and additional dollars may still be available to reduce the overall estimated project costs. In order to remedy this situation, should the City of Burlington: 

  • Remove the dam, draining Echo Lake, and restoring the resulting natural stream area with new park amenities, which is currently estimated to cost taxpayers $7.7 million?


  • Repair the dam, keep and dredge Echo Lake, and expand existing park amenities, which is currently estimated to cost taxpayers $8.1 million?

Referendum Informational Sessions

Come to this informational session to learn more about the Echo Lake dam and both referendum options!

October 12, 1:00 p.m.
Burlington Public Library
166 E. Jefferson Street
October 17, 6:00 p.m.
Veterans Terrace
589 Milwaukee Avenue
October 19, 1:30 p.m.
Burlington Public Library
166 E. Jefferson Street
October 25, 6:00 p.m.
Veterans Terrace
589 Milwaukee Avenue

Referendum presentationReferendum Informational Meeting Presentation

Echo Dam Referendum Flyer_Page_2View the Referendum Fact Sheet

Project Renderings

Echo Lake Master Plan Steering Committee

Steering Committee Agendas

Steering Committee Minute

Echo Lake Park Improvements webpage

Echo Lake Master Plan Community Engagement Workshops

Tentative Echo Lake Dam Decision / Referendum Timeline

 March 2022

  • 3/1/22 Committee of the Whole (COW) to Discuss Ayers Contract to Perform Additional Study to include:
    1. High Level mock-up for Dam Removal
    2. Upstream River characteristics
    3. Land Use Restrictions
    4. Park Design for both removal and modification options (with community input)
  • 3/4/22 Municipal Dam Grant Due with Authorizing Resolution
    1. Resolution to State Dam Modification or Dam Removal
  • 3/15/22 Common Council (CC) to Approve Contract with Ayers to Perform Additional Study (outlined above)

April / May 2022

  • 4/5/22 Formation of steering committee for Park Master Planning
  • 4/4/22 Community engagement event at Low Daily for Park Master Planning
  • 4/14/22 Second Community engagement event at Farmers Market in May
  • Ownership of Echo Lake Identified

June 2022

  • 5/12/22 Thrid Community engagement event at music event in Echo Park
  • Tentative Notification of Dam Municipal Grant Award Notification

July / August 2022

  • 7/5/22 Ayers Study Completion and presentation of Park Master Planning designs. A design for park improvements with dam removal and a design for park improvements with dam modification
  • 7/19/22 Decision on park improvements with dam removal/dam modification
  • 8/2/22 COW Referendum Question(s)
  • 8/16/22 CC Approval of Referendum Question(s)
  • 8/30/22 Referendum submittal to Racine County deadline

September / October 2022

  • Referendum Fact Sheet Distribution
  • Community Input Meetings on Referendum for November General Election

November / December 2022

  • 11/8/22 General Election
  • 11/15/22 Cow Discussion Regarding Municipal Dam Grant Affirmation/ Modification due to General Election Results
  • Council decision on dam removal or dam modification

January / March 2023

  • Engineering Firm Identified

July 2023

  • Construction Drawings Received
  • Drawdown of Echo Lake (If to be dredged and Dam kept & passes Referendum)

September/ October 2023

  • Award of Construction Contract
  • Dredging to begin (if Dam kept & passes Referendum)
  • Phase Construction to be disseminated

January 2024

  • Construction Commences


In 2015 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) required the City to perform a Dam Failure Analysis (DFA) for the Echo Lake Dam. The findings of the DFA were that the dam could not contain a modeled “500-year-flood”, which is a requirement of a dam of its classification. WDNR has required the City to achieve compliance with this requirement by July 2025. Compliance can be achieved by making modifications to the dam to increase spillway capacity, or by removing the dam. In either case some change will be necessary for the dam and maintaining the dam in its current state is not an option for compliance.

The City has hired Ayers Associates to explore options in achieving dam compliance. Ayers Associates have significant experience in the field of hydraulic modeling, structural assessment, and dam engineering. Ayers is familiar with the Echo Lake Dam and have performed dam inspection services for the City in the past.

November 15, 2021 Update Regarding Echo Lake Dam Spillway Feasibility Study

November 16, 2021 PowerPoint Presentation
November 5, 2021 Burlington (Echo Lake) Dam Spillway Improvement and Dam Removal Feasibility Study
November 16, 2021 Discussion memorandum with full details

On February 16, 2021 the Common Council approved a resolution authorizing Ayres Associates to perform a feasibility study to identify projects that achieve compliance with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (WDNR) requirements for the Echo Lake Dam. In 2015, WDNR provided the City of Burlington with a 10-year compliance timeline to bring the Echo Lake Dam into compliance with the requirements of Wisconsin State Statute Chapter NR 333 specifically relating to the dam’s inability to contain the 500-year flood within the spillway without overtopping the embankment. The scope of the feasibility study was to provide multiple viable solutions to achieve compliance through either modification of the dam or removal of the dam.

Throughout 2021 City staff and Ayres have worked to understand the unique hydrological features that exist around the Echo Lake dam in order to present compliant solutions as part of the feasibility study. On August 3, 2021 staff and Ayres presented findings that no viable solution exists for a dam to be compliant with NR 333.07(1) to contain the 500-year flood. However, it was likely that additional modeling of downstream river conditions could provide a case to achieve compliance by showing the spillway was capable of containing flood waters up to the point of dam submergence.
Ayres conducted additional modeling to determine if compliance could be achieved through this alternative route. This additional research was presented to WDNR to begin collaboration with WDNR and ultimately resulted in WDNR agreeing that our concept to achieve compliance with NR 333.07(2)(a) was valid.

Achieving conceptual buy-in from WDNR allowed Ayres to continue with their project concept designs for the report. The resulting feasibility study contains essentially two projects, each with a few variations as follows:

Dam Modification Options
The dam modification project achieves compliance by constructing improvements to the dam and Echo Park that allow the spillway to contain flood waters up to the point of dam submergence. The project consists of removing the existing tainter gate, installing three new gates, reconstructing the concrete retaining wall downstream from the dam, and increasing the elevation of the north embankment and extending it into Echo Park. Extending the north embankment into the park will have impacts on the park which can be mitigated by design choices. The variation for this project comes in the form of which style of gate is to be installed: tainter gates, crest gates, or sliding gates. Each style of gate has its benefits and draw backs for cost, ease of operation, performance, maintenance, and aesthetics.

Dam Removal Option
The dam removal project removes the dam structure, restores the river channel, and restores the drained lakebed to wetland with a variety of potential enhancements. This project contains a vast amount of customization concerning how to restore the former lakebed. Simplistically, the project could allow the lakebed to revert to natural space and wetland. At its most complex, the project could include features like stormwater ponds, pedestrian paths, boardwalks through the wetlands, bridges over the river, fishing ponds, and boat launches.

The detailed report contains cost estimates for each project, as shown below. These estimates include costs for construction, permitting, and a 30% contingency. The report can be viewed Here

Per the feasiblity study, a dredging project is estimated to cost tax payers $2.4 Million. Dam modifications (with any gate) could cost tax payers approximately $1.5 Million to $2.6 Million, plus the approximate $2.4 Million in dredging costs. Dam removal could cost tax payers approximately $1.5 Million to $6 Million. All costs are dependent on the complexity of the project chosen.

All projects are eligible for up to $1 Million in WDNR Municipal Dam Grant funding. Other grant opportunities may exist for shoreline work, pollutant removal, or stewardship depending on the particulars of the selected project. Staff will evaluate these options as design occurs in the future.

It is anticipated that an authorizing resolution for which project to pursue will be presented to the Common Council at the February 1, 2022 Committee of the Whole Meeting for discussion and at the February 16, 2022 Common Council Meeting for final consideration. This resolution would also authorize staff to apply for grant funding for the selected project.

October 12, 2021 Update Regarding Echo Lake Dam Spillway Feasibility Study

The City’s consultants at Ayres Associates are wrapping up the final elements of the Echo Lake Dam Feasibility Study. This study contains multiple options to achieve compliance with dam spillway capacity requirements including dam spillway modifications and dam removal. Each option presented in the study has a concept level design and cost estimate. City staff and staff from Ayres worked closely with staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to ensure the spillway modification options presented in the study will be able to achieve compliance with spillway capacity requirements. This is a very important project for the community and it was critical we only presented options that are viable, realistic, and able to achieve compliance. We are grateful for the collaboration and guidance provided by WDNR staff to help us achieve these goals.

The study is scheduled to be presented to the Common Council and the community at the November 16, 2021 Committee of the Whole Meeting. Following the Committee of the Whole presentation, staff will then host public open houses and stakeholder meetings to discuss the study and gather feedback from the community. Dates and locations for these meeting are not yet finalized and will be released in the near future.

Staff will then compile this feedback from these public input meetings and provide it to the Common Council. The Council will then need to make a decision on which option to pursue to achieve dam compliance and approve an authorizing resolution for a municipal dam grant application for the selected project. This decision will likely be scheduled for February 2022.

Press Release - September 2, 2021

Reports, Studies & Survey Results

Fox River Summit Presentation - 3/17/2022
POLCO Echo Lake Dam Survey Full Results
POLCO Echo Lake Dam Survey Summary
Community Input Meetings Comments
November 5, 2021 Burlington (Echo Lake) Dam Spillway Improvement and Dam Removal Feasibility Study
Echo Lake Pre-dredging Study - 2021
Echo Lake Dam Post Flood Safety Report - 2017
Dam Failure Approval & Hazard Rating Assignment - 2015

Frequently Asked Questions

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion within the community regarding the Echo Lake dam. Please see the FAQ below to help answer some of the questions you may have. 

What is wrong with the Echo Lake dam? 

The Echo Lake Dam is out of compliance with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) regulations. WDNR requires that during a 500-year flood all water is contained within the dam spillway and water does spill out around the sides of the dam. Currently, the Echo Lake Dam cannot contain a 500-year flood. Keeping the dam as it exists today will not be an option for the City. It must either be modified or removed. These changes must be made before July of 2025. 

Is it true the Echo Lake dam will be removed? 

Removal of the Echo Lake Dam is one way to achieve compliance with WDNR requirements. Compliance may also be achieved by keeping the dam, but making modifications. Dam modifications or removal are complex and potentially very impactful to the area where the dam is located. The City has contracted with Ayers Associates to conduct a spillway feasibility study of the Echo Lake Dam to better understand what options are available, and what impacts those options carry for the community. 

Is the City considering keeping the dam and improving Echo Lake?

Ayers and Associates will provide three options for modifying the Echo Lake Dam that would achieve compliance without removing the dam. It is unknown how much of an impact these modifications will have on the existing dam, Echo Lake, and Echo Park. Ayers and Associates is also testing the lake bed sediment to explore lake dredging as a potential project to go along with dam modifications or removal. 

When will the information from the analysis be available? 

The results of the study will be available and discussed in the Fall of 2021.

What will happen to Echo Lake if the dam is removed? 

If dam removal is the selected option, a restoration plan will be necessary to address the changing path of the river. Ayers and Associates will provide restoration plan concepts as part of the feasibility study. 

Will removing the dam cause the river to flood? 

The Echo Lake dam does not have the ability to control flooding on the Fox River and only slows the flow of the White River coming into the Fox River. Dam removal would have impacts on the river level, but to what extent is currently not known. This impact is one of many considerations being explored as part of the project Ayers Associates is working on. 

How much will repairs or removal cost the City? 

Ayers Associates will present three different dam modification options and a dam removal option as part of the study. These options will have cost estimates. This information will not be known until Fall of 2021.