Broken Dams Drain Tittabawassee River’s Wixom Lake, Leaving Surreal Scene

Broken Dams Drain Tittabawassee River’s Wixom Lake, Leaving Surreal Scene

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 21, 2020)

Billings Township, Gladwin County, MI –  As residents in Midland struggle with the massive flooding prompted by heavy rains and a series of infrastructure failures, those along the Tittabawassee River near Wixom Lake are wishing they could have some of the water back.

Wixom Lake is a man-made reservoir that is part of the Tittabawassee River.  The river has a series of dams, which have a history of failed inspections and ownership changes. On Tuesday heavy rains prompted evacuations as water levels rose and became more than the dams could handle.  Water rose up onto the properties lining the river and lake as people fled for higher ground.  And as dams failed, water from the lake and river rushed downstream, nearly emptying them.

Downriver from Billings Township is Midland, where the river is reported to have crested at 35 feet, leaving homes and other buildings, bridges, roads, and more damaged or destroyed.  Over 10,000 people have been evacuated.  Thus far there have no reported deaths, though flooding at Dow Chemical has been a concern.  And operating shelter and recovery efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic brings an extra layer of challenge.  Beyond Midland, the water continues to flow downstream and as of Wednesday night is flowing into Saginaw.

The Family Dollar in Billings Township now serves as a parking place for those wanting to get a peek at the eerily empty riverbed, though officials advise against any unnecessary travel  and there are problems on many roads near the river and beyond.

On Wednesday, firetrucks and Sheriff’s cruisers blocked each end of the Estey Road Bridge, and spectators were permitted only to get as close as the yellow caution tape strung between the pumps at the Wixom Lake Gas and Launch.  The night before, neighbors took pictures of the market, with the river swelling up around the building and reaching the tops of the concrete pillars in the parking lot.

Volunteers in orange vests kept people at a distance and told those who asked that while the bridge looked fine, there could be damage to the foundation and to expect it to be closed for some time.  In the midst of the flood and the sudden drainage, an unknown number of boats, along with parts of fishing docks and other debris, came loose and flowed away with the water. These also pelted the bridge as they passed.

What remained as of Wednesday was a muddy expanse with a significantly smaller river of water in the middle, and a surprising speckling of tree stumps. Rocks and pipes, old bottles, and other items could be spotted.  If there were any fish that didn’t make it, they were probably snatched up by the raptors that circling overhead.

Billings Township Supervisor Tim Mester has been updating residents via social media, as phone lines have been down. He shared that over 30 roads in the Wixom Lake area have been closed due to flood damage.  He also has put out an invitation for those who want to help.

“The last 48 hours have been devastating to our community. Let us join together to rebuild! We are looking for individuals with relevant knowledge or experience to help us with the recovery process. Please email me at to join the team,” Mester said.



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