Southeast Dam Removals a Win for Wildlife in 2013

Upper Swepsonville dam removal, NC | © USFWS

Recent removal of the Upper Swepsonville Dam on the Haw River, NC will improve habitat for the endangered Cape Fear shiner | © USFWS

Dam removal in the Southeast is continuing to gain momentum in part due to the hard work of American Rivers and our partners dedicated to bolster public safety, to improve ecological function through habitat improvement and connectivity, and to provide better recreational access and opportunities on our streams. The Southeast has achieved a total of 85 dam removals that American Rivers is aware, so the results are tangible. (Check out our blog post coming soon on all the dam removals in 2013!)

Furthermore, infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifespan, so many of the dams in the Southeast are at risk of failing and are in need of action. Especially for antiquated dams no longer serving the intended purpose like grinding grain or powering a textile mill, the cost-effective, safe, logical step for most managers is removal.

Many of our dam removal projects are multiple removals within close vicinity. For instance, the Smitherman’s dam removal near Troy, NC was the third in a series of four dam removals. (American Rivers is in the early stages of the forth removal now!) By removing a series of dams, more habitat and connectivity for wildlife can be achieved. The Troy area dam removals improved habitat for freshwater mussels and allowed greater connectivity for resident fish and the American eel.

Not far away from the Troy removals, the Lassiter Mill Dam removal will provide benefits to the migratory American shad, which will soon be passed above large hydroelectric dams on the Pee Dee River that currently block access to historic spawning areas. Like salmon, American shad spend their adult life in the ocean until it’s time to spawn then they head back to their freshwater beginnings to spawn. The American eel is another migratory fish that spends time in both the ocean and freshwater, but unlike shad, the American eel spawns in the ocean and returns to freshwater as juveniles. Both shad and eel are called diadromous fish, spending time in both saltwater and freshwater, and are greatly benefited by the increased connectivity to upstream habitats provided by dam removal.

Another place American Rivers restored this year, the Haw River, is still segmented by a number of small unused dams that are blocking access to critical habitat. The first of a four dam removal series, the Upper Swepsonville Dam, was removed from the Haw River in the town of Swepsonville, North Carolina in 2013. The dam was 550 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 3.5 feet high and was removed to improve aquatic habitat connectivity especially for the federally-listed endangered Cape Fear shiner. An additional 5.3 miles of main stem Haw River was opened by this project. The other three barriers slated for removal from the Haw River will continue to open habitat for the endangered fish, provide more connectivity for resident fishes, and improve public safety and recreation opportunities.

American Rivers is excited that dam removal is continuing to be a river restoration solution across the Southeast. A number of states achieved big wins for wildlife in 2013, and 2014 looks to be a great year in the making. In 2013, Alabama restored fish passage and increased habitat for endangered mussels with the removal of Goodwin’s Mill Dam on Big Canoe Creek near Springville. In 2009 and 2011, South Carolina removed two dams on Twelvemile Creek in Pickens Co. and the biological monitoring before and after the removals will be published this year. Also, American Rivers is expanding its work into Tennessee in 2014 and several great projects are on the horizon. Stay tuned for more info and thanks for your support of river restoration!