On December 28, 2005 Restoration Systems "shot" the Lowell
Dam three times with dynamite to restore migratory fish to 39 miles of stream
and river in Johnston County, N.C.
2nd explosion below
Raleigh News and Observer
Friday, December 30, 2005
Torpedo the dams!
Expect waterways flush with migratory fish once outdated
dams are dust
Wade Rawlins, Staff Writer
Three blasts of dynamite turned the 10-foot-thick Lowell Dam
into a crazed wall of concrete rubble that backhoes began scooping away this
Soon, the Little River will return to a shallow, rock-riffled waterway that
feeds the Neuse. And by spring, migratory fish such as shad, herring and striped
bass will have free passage from the Atlantic Ocean up the Little River and
Buffalo Creek almost to Wake County.
The Lowell Dam, near Kenly in Johnston County, is the fourth dam on the Neuse
and Little rivers to fall since 1998 in an effort to restore free-flowing waters
in the river basin and reopen historic spawning grounds.
For species such as herring, greater areas for spawning means a chance to
reverse declining populations.
SOME OF THE STATE'S NEXT TARGETS
A task force composed of representatives of federal and
state agencies compiled a list of which dam removals in North Carolina would
produce the most environmental benefits. Among them are:
* Lowell Dam on Little River in Johnston County
* Cape Fear River Lock and Dam #2, near Elizabethtown
* Cape Fear River Lock and Dam #3, southeast of Fayetteville
* Carbonton Dam on Deep River in Lee County, near border with Chatham and Moore
* Buckhorn Dam, on Cape Fear River, on Chatham/Lee county border, east of
* Rocky Mount Millpond on Tar River in Nash County
* Milburnie Dam on Neuse River in Wake County
* Wiggins Millpond on Contentnea Creek in Wilson County
U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
More abundant fish means more opportunity for people who enjoy catching and
eating them and for commercial fishermen who depend on catches to make a living.
"It's the first time since 1810 that [migratory] fish have been able to pass
this far upstream into the Piedmont," said George Howard, co-founder of
Restoration Systems, a Raleigh company that specializes in environmental
restoration and undertook the dam removal.
Nearby, at the border of Lee, Chatham and Moore counties, another outdated
impoundment, the Carbonton Dam, is coming down to restore habitat for the Cape
Fear shiner, a small endangered minnow. The fish is found only in a few places
in the Deep River and other tributaries of the Cape Fear River.
Dam removals restore habitat for aquatic species. In coming months, on the newly
exposed mud flats behind Lowell Dam, restoration crews will roll out mats of
coconut fiber seeded with rye grass and plant trees there to stabilize the river
New role in river's life
Gary Scott, 33, a Johnston County farmer whose family once owned the dam, stood
on the bank watching the yellow backhoes scoop up chunks of concrete. Scott said
the structure had served its purpose powering a mill to grind grain, and its
removal was good for the environment.
"It will give the folks upstream a chance to catch some of these shad that we
have been hogging," Scott said.
Scott said he had seen thousands of shad gathered at the
Lowell Dam each spring -- blocked by the structure from swimming further. The
fish had made their way to the Lowell Dam only since 1999, when the Rains Mill
Dam downstream near Princeton was removed.
"You can come down here in early spring, and people are just lined up here
fishing," he said. "There are people trying to catch them by hand."
Historically, the Neuse River and its tributaries produced more American shad
than any other river in the state. The dams have been a barrier to the spring
spawning run of the species, which has declined dramatically in commercial
catches. Large migrations of American shad are expected to occur next spring in
the stretch of river above the Lowell Dam.
Tim Savidge, an aquatic biologist with the Catena Group, an environmental
consulting company involved in the project, said removing the dam should provide
more suitable habitat not only for fish, but for several species of endangered
mussels. The dwarf-wedge mussel and Tar River spinymussel are among those that
will benefit. Some species of freshwater mussels attach themselves to fish gills
to move about as part of their reproduction process.
Before the demolition, Savidge and several divers were tagging mussels buried in
the river bottom near the dam. They'll survey the mussels in months ahead to
determine how the dam's removal has affected them and whether they've been
choked by sediment moving downstream.
Since the removal of the Rains Mill Dam in 1999, Savidge said he had found
species of mussels that had been found only below the dam beforehand, indicating
they were expanding their presence in the river. He expects to observe a similar
pattern after this dam removal.
"Just a simple thing like changing the speed at which a river flows changes the
aquatic habitat," said Adam Riggsbee, a graduate student in environmental
sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is doing
research on the dam removals.
Both the Lowell and Carbonton dams were on a list of small dams compiled by
state and federal agencies in 2002 that would benefit the environment by being
removed. Other high-priority removals are two dams on the Cape Fear.
"We're not trying to look at all dams and say they are bad," said Mike Wicker, a
biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "We do think there are a small
number of dams in North Carolina that are extremely bad for the environment.
We're trying to ferret out the ones that are atrocities for the environment and
get rid of those."
Federal laws such as the Clean Water Act require a trade-off when development or
highway construction harms the environment. The harm must be offset by an
environmental good deed, such as a stream restoration or dam removal.
But the state doesn't actually have to do the restoration work itself. Instead,
it can purchase "credits" from someone else who has done environmental
Restoration Systems purchased the Lowell Dam, then won a $4.3 million state
contract to sell its conservation credits generated by the removal. It is also
removing the Carbonton Dam.
The state will use the credits to compensate for disturbance caused by state
highway projects such as Raleigh's Outer Loop. The number of credits is based on
the length of the river that is restored by removing the dam.
"The Outer Loop is driving the removal of this dam and restoration of this
river," Restoration's Howard said.
Restoration Systems also plans to donate 17 acres for a public park and provide
$140,000 as an endowment to maintain the park.
"The question is, what do we want our world to look like?" Howard said. "People
have stated a strong preference to policy-makers that, 'We want our world to
bear some resemblance to that which we once knew.' That includes fish and
Staff writer Wade Rawlins can be reached at 829-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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