Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery renovation slated for 2021 start-up

A long-awaited renovation of a Lake Michigan trout and salmon hatchery, promised by state officials since 2013, is getting closer to completion but is still not ready to take fish.



a man riding a horse on the side of a ramp: DNR crews prepare to net fish from a raceway in March 2018 at Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery. The facility is being renovated with $26.6 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.


© Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
DNR crews prepare to net fish from a raceway in March 2018 at Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery. The facility is being renovated with $26.6 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The newly-constructed propagation systems at Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery have yet to be proven operational, said David Giehtbrock, fish culture section chief with the Department of Natural Resources. 

“Fish farmers don’t like to gamble,” Giehtbrock said. “So we won’t take possession of the building until everything is done.”

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The main contractor for the project, C.D. Smith Construction, Inc., is working to verify all of the new systems perform successfully and consistently, Giehtbrock said.

Although DNR personnel and conservation groups hoped to see fish in the facility this fall, the first use is now likely to be steelhead eggs next spring.

The $26.6 million project is one of the biggest in the history of the state’s hatchery program. It is being paid entirely with funds from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, according to the DNR.

Kettle Moraine Springs is a cold-water facility and primarily rears coho salmon and steelhead, or rainbow trout, for stocking in Lake Michigan.

The site in the rolling, glacial terrain is blessed with cold, spring water.

A private hatchery was established on the property in 1955; the DNR purchased it in 1979. Legislation passed that year mandated the DNR provide a hatchery within 40 miles of Lake Michigan in southern Wisconsin capable of producing greater than 40,000 pounds of trout and salmon for Lake Michigan.

The raceways, wells and buildings were in need of repair or replacement, according to a 2010 assessment by HDR Engineering. Aging infrastructure and water shortages in drought years led to shortages in fish production at the hatchery.

In August 2013, Cathy Stepp, then DNR Secretary, announced a $14 million plan to renovate the hatchery by 2016. But the Legislature didn’t include it in the state budget.

Instead the project was shifted to draw on the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, typically used to purchase public lands in the state.



An aerial photo showed construction in 2019 at the Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery near Adell. The renovation is being funded with $26.6 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.


© KFI Engineers
An aerial photo showed construction in 2019 at the Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery near Adell. The renovation is being funded with $26.6 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The hatchery renovation increased in size and cost, too, swelling to $26.6 million.

As such, it’s the largest hatchery project ever funded by Stewardship.

The new portion of Kettle Moraine Springs is designed to produce 340,000 yearling steelhead for stocking in April of each year in addition to starting coho salmon, according to the DNR.

The work entails building a new facility just south of the existing structures on the Kettle Moraine Springs property.

The goals included modernizing the fish rearing operations and minimizing both use of groundwater and waste water treatment, Giehtbrock said.

Four new wells were dug and a water treatment building, two fish rearing buildings and a waste treatment building were constructed.

The new facility will use recirculation aquaculture system technology, or RAS, to rear fish in circular tanks. As such, no raceways or outdoor ponds will be used for fish production.

The new system minimizes the use of ground water by cleaning and reusing the water continuously during the rearing cycle, Giehtbrock said, saving on water usage and reducing treated water discharges to the local stream.

Hatchery personnel have continued to produce fish with the 1970s-era infrastructure at Kettle Moraine Springs as the new buildings have been added.

And the DNR has stayed on track to meet its annual Lake Michigan stocking goals of 1.2 million chinook salmon, 500,000 coho salmon, 460,000 steelhead and 450,000 brown trout. Lake Mills and Wild Rose hatcheries also contribute to the Lake Michigan program.

But the Kettle Moraine Springs renovation can’t be completed soon enough, said Bob Wincek of New Berlin, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Great Lakes Sport Fishing Clubs.

“We’re concerned with the delays,” Wincek said. “This is several years overdue, really, and the old facility is literally falling apart so every day is another day too long.”

Giehtbrock said DNR staff and contractors were operating the new system without fish to work out any problems with the life support systems prior to transferring fish into the building.

Giehtbrock said the DNR does not have a “hard date” set for transfer of fish to the new facilities, but it will likely receive steelhead eggs in the spring of 2021.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery renovation slated for 2021 start-up

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