The last dam on the Rappahannock river in the western US is to be removed. The dam is Embrey dam, built in 1910 in Virginia. The city that owns the dam says it is no longer necessary, and the Friends of the Rappahannock, a local river conservation organisation, has pushed for its removal to restore the river’s natural fish habitats and spawning cycles.

The dam was originally built by the now-defunct Fredericksburg Power Co for hydroelectric power, but in recent years it was used only as a reservoir for city water. Fredericksburg now plans to get its water from the newly built Motts Run reservoir. City officials say that as soon as there was another source of supply the Embrey dam went from being an asset to a liability, as its condition had deteriorated and it would required considerable investment to restore it to acceptable standards.

Many of the earlier Rappahannock dams, which were built with wood frames and filled with sand, have crumbled and become part of the landscape. The Embrey is the only dam still in existence on the river, which otherwise flows unencumbered for 185 miles from the Blue Ride mountains to the Chesapeake bay.

Although everyone seems to agree that Embrey dam must be removed, financing the removal, which could cost up to US$7M, is still to be arranged. One of the major expenses of the removal is likely to be getting rid of the estimated 500,000cubic yards of sand and silt that have accumulated behind the dam.