Building partnerships to remove barriers on the Uwharrie River
This summer American Rivers’ completed the removal of Lassiter Mill Dam on the Uwharrie River. The removal of this grist mill dam dating back to 1805 will have an incredible benefit to the river system.
American Rivers has been actively pursuing this project since 2009 when we first identified as a critical restoration project in North Carolina. We gathered a dynamic team of partners including the Piedmont Conservation Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make this project possible.
We use these partnerships to leverage our expertise on dam removal so we can be more effective and in this case after our leadership and training on the project, we now have a great new project management partner in the Piedmont Conservation Council and look forward to working with them on many additional priority dam removals in the area.
The Southeast is home to almost 2/3 of all the freshwater fish species in North America, and over 90% of the freshwater mussels. Yet much of this diversity is being lost at a frightening pace, due in part to habitat degradation by tens of thousands of outdated dams.
The Lassiter Mill dam was a significant dam nearly 12 feet high and about 200 feet long. The dam created a wall that basically turned the free-flowing river environment into a stagnant pond environment. It was a major barrier to migrating fish like American shad stopping them from reaching spawning habitat in the upper Uwharrie River and also was a hazard for local fish populations.
The Uwharrie River is recognized for its biological diversity filled with rare, threatened or endangered aquatic animals unique to the Piedmont region of central North Carolina which has lead it to be designated as a Significant Natural Heritage Area by the state.
The Uwharrie is one of two major tributaries above Tillery Dam hydropower dam operated by Duke Energy Progress on the Pee Dee River. In the next few years, Duke Energy-Progress plans to trap and transport over 20,000 American shad and release the fish into the Pee Dee River above Lake Tillery, where the Uwharrie River joins. The Removal of the outdated Lassiter Mill dam has now opened up an additional 15 miles of the Uwharrie River’s main stem and 189 miles of perennial streams, enough habitat to support an additional 7,000 shad.
This project was funded jointly by the USFWS’ Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Community-based Restoration Program and Fish America Foundation with additional support for staff time coming from the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation and individual donors. The USFWS’ Fish Passage Fisheries Program provided funding for heavy equipment for dam deconstruction.
Uniquely, within the southeast, the Service has created its own in-house dam removal team to conduct restoration work saving substantial costs that allows more projects to be implemented in streams and river systems. Last year we successfully removed two dams in the basin and the Lassiter Dam was the next outdated barrier to be removed.