A 41-year-old dam is to be removed soon in what has been described as the largest ever dam removal project in Tennessee, US, for river and stream restoration purposes.
The Roaring River Dam is roughly 220ft across and 15ft tall. It is located in Jackson County about five miles before the beginning of the lake formed by the Cordell Hull Dam. The Roaring River is designated as a state scenic river and is a destination for paddlers, anglers and swimmers.
The dam, built in 1976 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is targeted for removal because the structure at its base is eroding in what is known as a “head cut,” creating a risk that this dam might fail. Rather than repair the dam, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Corps of Engineers determined that it would be better to remove the dam, which was originally built at TWRA’s request to keep reservoir species from migrating upstream into areas inhabited by stream fish. Fish surveys have shown that the barrier was not effective, and it is no longer needed.
“With the dam failing, it has provided an opportunity to enhance the connectivity within the Roaring River Watershed,” said Mark Thurman, TWRA Region III Fisheries Coordinator. “While the barrier has not excluded reservoir species, it does still function as a barrier through most of the year. Removing the dam will open up the river for fish such as white bass, sauger, smallmouth bass and redhorse. It will also benefit other species such as the eastern hellbender, whose numbers have declined across the species range.”
The eastern hellbender is a giant native salamander (growing up to 16 inches) that is listed as endangered in many states. In Tennessee, it is listed as a species of greatest conservation need. The salamander has been found both above and below the dam and its removal will reconnect these populations and allow for improved reproduction and overall species health.
“We know of more than 2000 of these dams in Tennessee’s rivers and streams. Many have outlived their intended purpose and fallen into disrepair. There is a growing recognition that removing these old dams results in safer rivers for recreation and healthier habitat for wildlife,” said Rob Bullard, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers Program Director with The Nature Conservancy.
Partners in the joint effort to remove the aging dam include TWRA, the Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Southern Aquatic Resources Partnership.
The exact date of removal will depend on river conditions but is expected within the next few months.