The removal of a lowhead dam on the mainstem of the Harpeth River in Franklin, Tennessee started this week. The dam’s removal will make the Harpeth River one of the few rivers in Tennessee that is entirely free flowing.
The project will remove the dam and restore free flows to the river improving fish habitat as well as bolstering recreational opportunities with the establishment of canoe and kayak access points. It also will help conservationists restore unstable river banks and demonstrate modern methods for enabling water withdrawals that support the river’s natural flow and ecological value.
On May 21, 2012, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar identified the Harpeth River Restoration and Lowhead Dam Removal Project as the one project for Tennessee for the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative. The Rivers Initiative is identifying projects around the country to serve as models of how to conserve and restore key rivers, expand outdoor recreational opportunities and support jobs in local communities. This project is one of 51 around the country that the Secretary is highlighting nationwide, one in each state and in the District of Columbia.
• This national demonstration project will showcase the modern techniques that may be used to restore a river’s natural ecology and flow, while still allowing for water withdrawals.
• It will restore fish habitat and allow for free movement of fish along the entire river.
• It will improve the public access point and safety for paddlers as part of the Harpeth River Blueway.
• It will stabilize eroding river banks in the section of the river in the vicinity of the low head dam to reduce sediment and pollutant loads and improve water quality.
This project will remove the only barrier on the Harpeth River to reconnect the entire river for fish passage, restore natural fish habitat, stabilize eroding river banks in the 2,000 feet of the river in the vicinity of the lowhead dam located in the river on Lewisburg Pike, and maintain the City of Franklin’s drinking water withdrawal. This project, based on the Natural Channel Design method, will replace the 6.2 foot high lowhead dam with one low-profile, in-stream, boulder feature to recreate the “riffle/run and pool” natural fish habitat while maintaining the city’s ability to withdrawal for drinking water. It also will reestablish natural river flows that will increase dissolved oxygen levels that have been measured far below state standards in the area.
Other aspects of the plan will stabilize the eroding banks and revegetate the streamside zone with native plants. The project was designed by Beaver Creek Hydrology, a civil engineering firm based both in Franklin and in Kentucky that specializes in river restoration using Natural Channel Design principles. In addition to improving fish habitat, removing fish barriers, and improving water quality, the project will significantly enhance recreational opportunities on the Harpeth River in the Franklin area for fishing and paddling. The greatly improved public access is part of the series of public accesses being built as part of the Harpeth River Blueway, a series of accesses every five river miles that was developed by the Harpeth River State Park, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, and Harpeth River Watershed Association.
In a recent study, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) found 53 different species of fish in just one river mile surrounding the low head dam! This river is just one of a very unique system of Southeastern rivers that together hold more biodiversity than anywhere else in the world. This nationally recognized river restoration project will create a healthier and more diverse river ecosystem that will benefit wildlife, increase tourism, improve water quality, provide drinking water, and improve recreational access to enjoy this natural treasure to Franklin and middle Tennessee.
This project is part of a national trend in removing dams much larger than the lowhead dam, and puts Franklin in the forefront of focusing on improving the Harpeth River as a significant natural and economic asset, which is also a State Scenic River as it flows through Davidson County downstream of Franklin.
A variety of federal, state, local, and non-governmental organizations are contributing a total of $871,000 for this project. For example, the City of Franklin supports removing the structure as part of modernizing its water withdrawal from the Harpeth for drinking water, as required in its permit from the state. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) as a partner is conducting the actual removal of the structure.
The Harpeth River Watershed Association received $350,000 from collaborative funding programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP), and the National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHAP) for projects to improve fish habitat and remove blockages to fish passage.
Other project partners include the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and, City of Franklin, Harpeth River Watershed Association, Vulcan Materials, Beaver Creek Hydrology, North State Environmental, and Waste Management who is the sponsor of the “Dam Cam” so the project can be viewed remotely at http://www.harpethriver.org/damcam
For more information, visit: http://www.harpethriver.org/program/lowhead_dam
To view the project’s construction progress: view the “Dam Cam”: http://www.harpethriver.org/damcam
Dan Ashe, director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "This is the kind of project that has so many good things going for it. By pooling our limited resource funds at the federal, state, and local levels, we can each take on a piece of the project with our best capabilities, enabling the vision of America's Great Outdoors by fostering state and local buy-in and implementation. This partnership results in wildlife benefits and improved water quality, and tops it off with super fishing, canoeing and kayaking recreational opportunities to be enjoyed by everyone. “
Scott Robinson, Southeast Aquatics Resources Partnership, coordinator, said, “SARP is pleased to identify and support locally-directed projects, like that on the Harpeth River. These help to meet regional conservation priorities in the Southeast and address national conservation goals.”
"The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation appreciates the efforts put forth by the city of Franklin and the Harpeth River Watershed Association, along with the many stakeholders who have played key roles in this collaborative partnership," said Dr. Shari Meghreblian, deputy commissioner for TDEC. "The removal of this low-head dam is a great achievement and the improvements being made will only benefit the long-term health of the Harpeth River."
Dorene Bolze, Executive Director, Harpeth River Watershed Association, said, “We are proud to be able to bring $350,000 in federal grant support to this river restoration project and be the overall coordinator of a large partnership of eight local, state and federal government agency partners and five private businesses. This is much more than a simple removal of a 6-foot-tall lowhead dam. It is a national demonstration project that showcases modern techniques in river restoration that restores a river’s natural ecology and flows while maintaining domestic water withdrawals for drinking water. On top of that, the State Scenic Harpeth River becomes one of the few completely free flowing rivers in all of Tennessee and is home to rare fish and mussels and a large diversity of aquatic life right in the heart of middle Tennessee within 30 minutes of downtown Nashville. With so much local community enjoyment of the river, this project also improves public access as part of a 125-mile-long series of public access points called the Harpeth River Blueway.”
The removal of the city’s lowhead dam is part of a national effort which, over the past 50 years, has seen the removal of more than 600 dams around the country, according to a compilation by American Rivers. In Tennessee, 25 dams (eight to 160 feet tall) have been removed around the state in the last 40 years. The removal of this six-foot structure on the Harpeth will be only the second on a main river in Tennessee. The one other main river dam removal was on the Duck River. The others have been small streams.
As part of the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative, Interior Department agencies – including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – are working with states and communities to advance river restoration and recreation projects by providing technical and other assistance through existing programs and staff, and by leveraging non-federal investments.
From an economic standpoint, rivers support our recreation and tourism economy by providing opportunities for boating, fishing and hunting, hiking, camping, swimming, and numerous other outdoor activities. They also offer a focal point for environmental education and outreach that helps communities understand and connect with the great outdoors.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar unveiled the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative in January as part of President Obama’s overall America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to work with communities across the country to establish a 21st century conservation ethic, reconnect people, especially young people, to the outdoors, and promote the outdoor recreation economy.
The goals of the Rivers Initiative include protecting and restoring America’s rivers for people and wildlife and enhancing river recreation that supports jobs in tourism and outdoor recreation.
A map and more detailed descriptions of the 11 river initiatives highlighted by Salazar can be accessed at http://www.doi.gov/Americas-Great-Outdoors-Highlighted-River-Projects.cfm
Under the initiative, for example, Mr. Salazar issued a Secretarial Order in February establishing a National Water Trails System, creating a network of designated water trails on rivers across the country that will help facilitate outdoor recreation, especially around urban areas, and provide national recognition to existing, local water trails.