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North Carolina, Neuse River Basin Dam Removal Paying Dividends for Anadromous Fish

Anadromous fish are those, such as shad, that return to freshwater to spawn after spending part of their lives in the ocean. Bennett Wynne, the North Carollina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator is quoted as saying “In the Neuse River, hickory shad have been more abundant. Last week, we picked up a few around Goldsboro, along with some American shad. I am cautiously optimistic about shad numbers. Removing dams is important to both species but more so for American shad because they prefer spawning on the rockier substrate above the fall line. Most of the hickory shad population is found from Kinston downstream, where Pitchkettle Creek is the historical place where fishermen catch them. Last year we had strong flows in the river and we saw a good turnout of anglers at Milburnie Dam near Raleigh in Wake County. It is great that we can have a fishery for shad that far inland.”
READ MORE AT  http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/09/3771485/neuse-shad-run-nears-peak-numbers.html?sp=/99/103/126/

This Just In: Milburnie Dam agency and NGO Comments

Let Loose the Neuse: Riverkeeper Strongly Supports Removing the Milburnie Dam

The Neuse River Foundation, and the Upper Neuse River Waterkeeper, Alissa Bierma, have written a fine letter in support of the Milburnie Dam removal during the recently concluded public comment period. We are so pleased that, in this expert organization’s estimation, the dam removal is the wise thing to do and will greatly benefit the ecological health of this important river.

 

Neuse River Waterkeeper’s Public Comment on the Milburnie Dam Removal

That Ain’t Right!: Critic of dam removal fails to disclose conflict

I came into the office this morning (Saturday!) and was surprised to learn I had missed a News and Observer article earlier this morning about our proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River.

Anyway, I found the article, “Firm Again Asks to Remove Dam,” a mixed bag.  I appreciated seeing the support of the Neuse River Association, and the accurate comments of Dickie Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association about the Carbonton Dam.  But I was shocked and disappointed to see a name from Restoration Systems past make nutty statements about the Lowell Dam project — and fail to be identified as someone with an ax to grind.

David Grady is quoted saying,

 “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

— David Grady

I’ve got two problems with that silly quote. One, it is demonstrably inaccurate that the Lowell dam removal failed to enhance the spawning opportunities for migratory fish (more on that in a moment) or that we, “dried the river up.”  And two, David Grady is the disgruntled son of a fine man RS was involved in a purchase of land from well before the Lowell Dam was removed, making him a score settler — not a source of good information.

I suspect his beef has less to do with the river — and more to do with…..his beef over the earlier transaction.

As for the Little River after the Lowell Dam was removed, here is what N.C. State and 876 fish have to say:

Prior to the removal of Lowell Mill Dam on the Little River, resident upstream fish could migrate downstream by spilling over the dam, but upstream migration, including that by anadromous fish, was precluded. Following dam removal, both resident and anadromous fish species were captured at the weir moving upstream and downstream. In total, 876 unique fish took advantage of the unobstructed migration and some migrated past the former dam site in both directions. American shad and gizzard shad utilized the entire extent of restored habitat as they migrated up to the impassable Atkinson Mill Dam. Increased spawning migrations by American shad following dam removals have been documented in previous studies (Walburg and Nichols 1967, Burdick and Hightower 2006). In addition to utilizing upstream habitat for spawning, the reconnected river allows fish to move freely for food, cover, and preferred water temperatures, flow, and depth in the Little River, but also in tributaries and the Neuse River.

Annual Report

Joshua K. Raabe
Joseph E. Hightower
United State Geological Survey
North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
North Carolina State University, Department of Zoology
Raleigh, North Carolina
February 20, 2008

If 876 fish seems a bit low, consider that this was in 2007, one of the worst droughts in recent years (see video).  The fact remains that removing the Lowell Dam was good for the Little River and good for fish — if not David Grady.

As for the Little River “drying up,” consider this quote from Dr. Josh Raabe of N.C. State:

“That’s what excites me, when we catch huge fish, the big catfish.
We’ve caught a couple of 40-pound-plus catfish,” Danesi said. “I like seeing the dynamics of the river, too. Just a couple of days ago, this was a trickle, and now it’s seven feet.”  Josh Raabe, Researchers Study Little River Migration, Goldsboro News Argus, July 15, 2010

Josh gets it.  Natural river levels fluctuate. Sometimes the river is low — sometimes it is high.  That’s what healthy rivers without dams do.

Finally, make certain to check out this fabulous video produced by N.C. State regarding the recent ecological history of the Little River following the dam removals.  If removing the dam was an environmental disaster — I’ll take another helping:

 

Firm Again Asks to Remove Neuse’s Milburnie Dam

Raleigh News and Observer

December 10, 2011

RALEIGH New plans are rising to demolish and remove the 15-foot Milburnie Dam, the last man-made barrier along the Neuse River between Falls Lake and Pamlico Sound.

Restoration Systems, the Raleigh-based firm seeking approval, argues that pulling down the dam will release more than 32,000 linear feet of water and return the Neuse to a more natural state.

In their prospectus submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they predict water quality will improve and migratory fish such as striped bass and American shad will get to swim and spawn farther upriver.

“If you just remove the dam, you open up a whole new world of habitat,” said Adam Riggsbee, consultant to Restoration Systems. “It’s almost instantaneous.”

But residents along the river see a grim future for the Neuse without the dam, which dates to 1855. Water levels would drop so drastically that Raleigh’s river would become a trickle, they say, spoiling the scenery just as the city is working to draw people there with greenways and pedestrian bridges.

They recall that the Corps turned down Restoration Systems last year, asking the firm to provide more data on the potential for draining wetlands and spreading toxic sediment.

“If they remove the dam, instead of having a nice beautiful river above the dam for the enjoyment of everyone, what we’re going to have is a meandering little muddy steam that you and I can wade across,” said James E. Smallwood, who lives just above the dam.

Meanwhile, the public has until Dec. 14 to comment.

Based in Raleigh, Restoration Systems has a long history of environmental mitigation banking, which means the firm does work to improve ecology and receives credits for that work. Those credits can then be sold to public and private developers doing construction projects that negatively impact wetlands.

As proposed, those credits could be used in a territory following the Neuse basin and its immediate surroundings, an area that stretches roughly from Person to Craven counties.

‘Decimated’ river

In recent years, Restoration Systems has taken out dams on the Deep and Little rivers nearby. Reviews are mixed.

Kenly Mayor David Grady said the Little River is narrow and shallow enough to jump across within three miles of the spot where the dam was removed. “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

On the Deep River near the Chatham-Lee county border, taking out the dam rid the river of oil slicks and algae blooms in the lake-like water, said Dick Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association.

“Everything has turned out very good for us,” he said. “The water quality, the fish, the wildlife. I actually had five teenagers baptized down there.”

The firm’s prospectus is more than six times longer than its 2010 proposal, and it addresses the wetlands concerns by estimating that roughly 11 acres would be threatened by removing the dam.

As to the sediments, Restoration Systems points to a study conducted in August by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Raleigh. Data from the study were not included in the firm’s prospectus, but a draft report of the findings was provided to The News & Observer.

Dr. Tom Augspurger, ecologist and contaminants specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported pollutants in the samples collected both above and below the dam were lower than the level of concern.

Also, he said pollutants in sediment below the dam were typically higher than above, concluding that removing the dam is unlikely to increase pollution downriver.

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Alissa Bierma said she supports removing the dam to make the Neuse more free-flowing. But she thinks the area where mitigation credits could be used should be smaller.

If the Corps approves Restoration Systems’ prospectus for the Neuse, it would still have to issue a permit later. Taking out the dam, if approved, would take years.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

National Support: American Rivers advocates for Milburnie Dam removal

Thrilled to see our friends at American Rivers asking their members to support the Milburnie Dam removal!
Click the image to visit the site:

Sad Shad: Still blocked by Milburnie Dam after all these years

[This article was written in 2010, there is another public comment period open until Wednesday, December 14, 2011. You can view it here]

Shad close to home
BY JAVIER SERNA – Staff Writer
Raleigh News and Observer
April 16, 2010
Published in: Outdoors

RALEIGH A 2-pound American shad hen danced along the Neuse River’s surface and spun line off a medium-action spinning reel like a spool of kite string at the other end of a steady Atlantic breeze.

The scene is most common toward the coast, but there’s no need to truck down to the coast to satisfy the saltwater fishing urge.

For a couple of weeks, American shad have been concentrating at the Milburnie Dam in Raleigh, nearly 230 river miles upriver from the Pamlico Sound.

“They’ve come a long way,” said John Ellis, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who spends many spare spring hours pursuing American shad for the fun of it. “We’re pretty high up in the watershed.”

The American shad is one of several species that have been able to reach their former spawning grounds ever since a downstream dam was removed 12 years ago.

An electroshocking survey conducted near the Milburnie Dam last week by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists turned up several dozen American shad and even a couple of striped bass, typical of spring sampling for the past 10 years.

“It suggests that these fish are taking advantage of the spawning habitat in the upper part of the river,” said Bob Barwick, a state fish biologist.

Earlier in the spring, hickory shad, the smaller cousin of the American shad, also ran up the Neuse, the longest river that is completely within the state’s boundaries.

Ellis and several of his colleagues aren’t the only ones who get a kick out of fishing for shad during a run that typically lasts into May. Others use fly rods to cast brightly colored “junk” flies with success.

There’s no telling how many fish are kept, but state law allows a combination of 10 American and hickory shad to be kept per day, unless the angler is fishing the Roanoke River, where only one of those may be an American shad.

“They’re tasty,” said Ellis, who said he would like to see the limit for American shad lowered on the Neuse to help protect the species.

The state has considered doing so but has decided it against for now, Barwick said.

In North Carolina, American shad tend to spawn more than once in their lives. On the Neuse River, American shad could go only as far as the Quaker Neck Dam near Goldsboro until 1998, when the dam was removed, opening up 78 more miles of river.

The low-head dam had been built in 1952, and its removal reopened old spawning grounds primarily for American shad and striped bass.

The American shad population in the Neuse is viable enough that, until this year, state biologists removed shad from below the Milburnie Dam to be used in hatchery efforts to stock the Roanoke River, which has a struggling population of the species. Striped bass and hickory shad are more abundant on the Roanoke.

The collection stopped this year because, although there are still a few 4-pound females, considered good breeders, the numbers of bigger fish are dwindling in the Neuse.

“We’re worred about removing too many fish from the Neuse River,” Barwick said.

New water

A chance exists that more of the Neuse could be opened soon. An open comment period is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding a proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam, which would add 15 free-flowing miles to the Neuse, making the Falls Lake dam the new dead end for migratory fish. The comment period closes April 22.

Read more

Mag: RS Dam Removals Restoring Life to Once Drowned Rivers

Wildlife in North Carolina recently published an article on a subject dear to the Swamp Merchant’s heart. Lynette Batt of American Rivers has written a wonderful piece on the benefits, history, and challenges of dam removal in the Old North State. RS’ removal of the Carbonton and Lowell dams figure prominently in the article. We were particularly gratified to see crack river ecologist and RS contractor Tim Savidge, of the Catena Group, quoted regarding the terrific ecological results from the two projects. Both of our removals have resulted in the recolonization of formerly stagnant, deep water impoundments with federally endangered river species. The staggering ability of these rivers to renew themselves (with a little help from RS) is a story that cannot be told too many times:

Savidge notes that “the removal of the Carbonton Dam has resulted in recolonization of the former impoundment by a number of rare freshwater mussel species such as the yellow lampmussel, Savannah lilliput and notched rainbow.” He reports another major success for a federally endangered species, the Tar River spiny mussel, which was found in August 2010 in the former impoundment of the Lowell Dam on the Little River. That makes it the second endangered species found in any stream restoration site in North Carolina.
— Quoted in “Removing Dams, Restoring Rivers”

Removing Dams Restoring Rivers-Feb 2011- FINAL

N&O: Lynnette Batt, Associate Dir. for river Restoration in N.C. : Pros of dam Removal

N&O Op-Ed: Lynnette Batt & Alissa Bierma – Pros of dam removal