Carbonton Dam Removal

Deep River will soon go with its flow

By Nomee Landis
Staff Writer

CARBONTON — The Deep River will begin falling this week behind the Carbonton Dam, the first step in removing the structure and freeing the river here.

Demolition of the dam is expected to be finished by late this year or early next year. A state task force in 2002 ranked it No. 4 on a list of impoundments that should be removed for environmental reasons.

The dam’s removal will return the Deep to its shallower, more natural flow patterns for more than nine miles. It will open 19 miles of the river to fisheries that were divided when the dam was built 84 years ago.

State wildlife and water quality staffers say dismantling the dam will significantly improve the health of the river and the wildlife it supports. Local anglers and those who live near the dam say they will lose something more than stone and brick when the structure falls.

It will take between one and two weeks to release enough water for engineers to get a good look at the dam and the river bottom behind it, said George Howard of Restoration Systems, the Raleigh company that is removing the dam. Howard is the founder and vice president of the company.

When the water has fallen low enough, engineers will decide whether sediments and debris behind the dam should be removed or allowed to move downstream later with the river’s currents. Howard said they also may discover the remnants of an old dam behind the existing one.

Once the dam is gone, Restoration Systems will build a park on the 5-acre site, on the south side of the river. The Triangle Land Conservancy will ultimately manage the park.

Restoration Systems does environmental mitigation. In this case, removing the dam will restore several miles of stream bank to its natural state. Such projects are used to compensate for the destruction of other, similar resources.

The town of Siler City plans to enlarge its dam on the Rocky River, a tributary of the Deep, to shore up drinking-water supplies. That project will destroy two miles of stream bank.

The Carbonton project is the “ideal mitigation for the loss of that resource,” Howard said. “It is not the perfect solution, but it is the best that can be arranged.”

The Carbonton project is the first of its kind, Howard said. Most stream-restoration projects involve returning channelized streams to their natural meandering states.

The demolition of the dam will lower the river level by between 13 and 16 feet, Howard said. That will make the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp that lies just upstream unusable.

Howard said Restoration Systems is working with the commission to find an alternative ramp site. If a site is not found within 10 miles of the existing ramp, the company will pay the commission $20,000.

The park will offer a passive site where kayakers and canoeists can put their boats in the water, Howard said. Unless the water level is abnormally high, it will not be suitable for motor boats.

Something missing

Anglers who fish upstream of the dam in the lake-like stillness it creates say they will miss boating on and fishing in that deep water. And those who live around the dam say they will miss their community’s historic icon.

Gail Borg of Fayetteville has been fishing upstream of the Carbonton Dam with her husband, Jim, for years. He fishes for bass. She goes after the bream or the bluegill.

“It is so beautiful,” Gail Borg said. “The serenity is unbelievable. I will stop fishing just to look around, look at the wildlife.”

The couple uses the wildlife commission boat ramp. The dam’s demise will force them to go elsewhere, a prospect that gives them little pleasure.

“There are not many areas you can go and see what you can see and be able to fish and enjoy it,” Gail Borg said.

The Deep is a heavily dammed river. More than a dozen small hydropower dams still exist on the Deep. Construction of the Randleman Dam on the river in Randolph County was completed last year at a cost of about $85 million.

Bobby Diver grew up in the Carbonton area and raises chickens in Moore County, near the House in the Horseshoe. He does not want the dam demolished because it has been a part of the community for more than 80 years. He said a park will attract crime.

“I hate to see it taken out,” Diver said. “All it’s going to be is a little creek running through there — and a mess.”

Diver’s brother, Edward Diver, lives about a mile downstream of the dam. The river there is about 30 feet wide and knee-deep. He can still catch bass, catfish and bream in it, though.

Potential problems

In 2002, representatives of nine state and federal agencies, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the N.C. Division of Water Quality and the Wildlife Resources Commission, took part in the task force that ranked the dams according to their environmental effects.

Carbonton Dam was listed because of its adverse effects on water quality in the Deep River. Near the dam, the water’s stillness and depth make it susceptible to temperature variances and algal blooms. That can lead to low oxygen levels in the water and fish kills.

Tim Savidge is an environmental supervisor with the Catena Group, a small environmental consulting firm in Hillsborough. The company performed an aquatic life survey in the river as part of the dam-removal process, in part to look for rare species.

They found them, too. They found the endangered Cape Fear shiner, a minnow that lives only in a few places in the Cape Fear River basin. That was not really a surprise, Savidge said, because it is known to live in that area of the Deep River.

Finding a granddaddy Roanoke slabshell mussel was a surprise, though.

Some mussels can survive for more than a century, Savidge said. This particular specimen, the scientists surmised, probably has been around since before the Carbonton Dam was built.

Savidge said it is believed that the Roanoke slabshell depends on an anadromous fish species for its survival. That is a fish that lives in salt water but swims up fresh-water streams to spawn.

Juvenile mussels have a parasitic relationship with their host fish species, attaching themselves to the gills of their hosts. In this way, mussels are transported throughout a river system.

The Carbonton Dam as well as other downstream dams have isolated some mussel populations, preventing their reproduction.

Removing the Carbonton Dam, Savidge said, may not be enough for the Roanoke slabshell, but about six other mussel species and more than 20 other fish species will have more room and more habitat once the dam is gone.

Carbonton Dam

  • The dam is on the Deep River in the Carbonton community at the Lee-Moore county line.
  • It was built in 1921 and is 216 feet long and 16 to 18 feet tall.
  • The dam affects 9.3 miles of the Deep River.
  • Removing the dam will open 19 miles of habitat to downstream fisheries.