In North Carolina there are 6,250 dams blocking our rivers and streams – and this does not even include farm ponds. Most of these dams are no longer serving their intended purpose like powering old mills or pooling water for unneeded water supply. These obsolete relics clog rivers stopping fish from accessing their habitat, pose a public safety hazard, increase the threat of upstream flooding, and block recreational economic growth opportunities.
American Rivers has been working in North Carolina for more than a decade on various voluntary dam removal projects and have had great success. But the regulatory system in place in North Carolina – like many states across the country – is not designed to facilitate restoration; it is designed to stop pollution and destruction of the streams and rivers we love. Projects that are badly needed can be delayed and costs increased due to needing to push these restoration projects through a system that is looking for ways to stop damage rather than encouraging restoration.
In order to improve this system and encourage more dam removals, we have successfully worked with the North Carolina General Assembly and Department of Environmental Quality to write and pass a bill – SB 107: Streamline Dam Removal – that makes dam removal easier in the state. The bill was championed by state Senators Andy Wells (R-Hickory), Brent Jackson (R- Autryville), Rick Gunn (R-Burlington), and Mike Woodard (D- Durham) and Deputy Majority Leader Representative Stephen Ross (R- Burlington) and after unanimous approval by both the state House of Representatives and Senate, it was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on July 20th.
The new law begins to develop a system for dam removal in the state by:
- Creating an explicit state review under the Clean Water Act for dam removals;
- Focusing the limited resources of the State’s Dam Safety program where the most need is – high hazard dams where an uncontrolled breach would cause loss of life;
- Acknowledging that removing the dam restores the natural river ecosystem which does not need to be mitigated;
- Improving the state floodplain mapping requirements for dam removal; and
- Organizing a coordinated review by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Public Safety (Floodplain Mapping) of the permitting system and the development of a report on how to best optimize dam removal regulation in North Carolina.
This bi-partisan effort was one of the very few pro-environmental bills to move through the North Carolina legislative process in 2017. It shows the breadth of support that river restoration through dam removal currently has in the state and the country.
American Rivers continues to propel the dam removal movement forward both by improving the process to make it easier for more NC dams to be removed (like with this bill) and by leading on-the-ground removal projects, such as the Shuford Dam on the Henry River, the multiple dams removed on the Haw River, or many others.