Director of Land Stewardship, Rebekah Parker, writes about our current dam removal project and answers your most burning questions:
I hope everyone was excited to hear our announcement that, in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we will be removing the Old Shadow Lake Dam on Turkey Creek near Pinson, Alabama! This restoration project will open up an additional half mile of appropriate habitat for the several species of fish and wildlife including the endangered vermilion darter – a fish that only lives within a 7.2 mile segment of Turkey Creek and its tributaries.
The dam that we are removing is located within a 226 acre preserve owned by the Freshwater Land Trust and is one impoundment along Turkey Creek that has been identified as limiting the range of the vermilion darter, other fish, and aquatic life. The 6 feet tall, 85 feet wide dam was built in the 1920s to create a swimming and fishing hole, but it has now filled with silt and sediment. As you can imagine, it would be hard for any fish to get over a 6 foot tall obstacle in the creek! Areas upstream of the dam have been identified as appropriate habitat for the vermilion darter which requires clear, fast-moving water over rock creek bottoms. The darter has not been seen upstream of the dam since 1995 which leads us and our partners to believe that the upstream population no longer exists and the dam is preventing any new populations from moving in. We will be conducting extensive surveys post removal to monitor the progress of the newly reconnected stream stretch.
The dam has not only blockaded the creek but has also created a dangerous structure and potential liability. At only 20 inches wide, the dam will not last forever and a sudden dam failure will have long lasting negative impacts far downstream of the dam to both human and wildlife. Our plan ensures that the hazardous dam will be removed in a controlled and monitored way. Prior to FWLT ownership, people have been seriously injured from attempting to cross the creek at the dam site. The dam will be removed slowly over the course of several days. Action Environmental will be using specialized equipment to remove the sediment behind the dam as they slowly remove a few feet of the dam at a time. This process will prevent any sudden release of sediment and will allow the water levels to adjust to the absence of the dam. We are also working with Skip Ragsdale of Sunshine Supply to employ advanced sediment catchment techniques to prevent any silt of sediment from traveling downstream. I have been so impressed by the new technology in sediment retention barriers and we are so proud of the plan Action Environmental and Sunshine Supply have developed. Staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Freshwater Land Trust will be on site during deconstruction and will be conducting water testing sampling throughout the project. This project would not be possible without each of these partners’ contributions! We are really enjoying working with each of them.
This winter and next spring, we will begin replanting the dam with native trees and shrubs. This part of the restoration work will be made possible by a grant through the Five Star Restoration Program, which involves multiple partners including Alabama Power, Southern Company, the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Bank reconstruction is being made possible by Vulcan Materials Company through the generous donation of bank stabilization materials. We are so grateful to have partners for this important phase of the project and can’t thank them enough for their generosity!
We have been asked several questions about the project and wanted to answer some of the questions we hear most below:
Will it affect Turkey Creek Nature Preserve?
First, we are so thankful that people care about Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and what happens in the watershed as a whole. The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is one of the Freshwater Land Trust’s collaborative projects. We invested time and money to facilitate the protection of the Preserve and would do nothing to harm the integrity of that beautiful site. We believe that this dam removal will enhance the experience at TCNP because it will improve water quality and reduce the risk of a sudden unexpected dam breach that could potential harm the Preserve.
The dam removal site is several miles upstream of the Preserve and no day to day operations of the Preserve will be affected by the dam removal or the bank restoration.
Why not just break a small hole in the dam?
A sudden break in the dam will cause a dangerous breach which will allow the sediment to be quickly released downstream. The lack of support structures within the dam will also not allow for any partial break in the dam.
We have worked on planning this project for over 3 years and have developed a comprehensive plan using the expertise of our staff, USFWS, engineers and an advisory panel with more than 15 people and organizations. We have analyzed multiple removal scenarios and we are confident in our plan with Action.
Why not just move the vermilion darters to the upstream side?
Populations that are not allowed to move through the full habitat range will not succeed. A few isolated individuals upstream of the dam will not improve the endangered species status of the vermilion darter.
How will this project affect flooding issues?
The FWLT conducted a flood study with that determined there will not be any changes to flood/water levels on any adjacent properties – upstream or downstream. Typically there is an improvement on flood management and control when you return a stream to its natural state which is what our project will accomplish.
What are you going to do once the dam is removed?
We will use pieces of the dam and additional rock to recreate the stream bank to match natural slop e and topographic conditions we see upstream and downstream of the dam. Thanks to a generous grant by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation we have the opportunity to replant the stream with native shrubs and trees that will further stabilize the area.
How can I keep up with the project’s progress?
Anyone can follow our progress at www.facebook.com/FreshwaterLandTrust and through our Twitter @fwlt. Updates and pictures will be made with #FreeTheVermilionDarter.