Delaware County SWCD Improves River Flow, Aquatic Habitat and Recreation on the White River

By Katrina Stacey

In Muncie, Indiana, where there are numerous dams that are either degraded or no longer needed, the Delaware County SWCD found partners to help fund the removal of two low-head dams and the modification of a third along the White River.

The two dams removed with this project were no longer functional. The first once served a barbed wire factory that was no longer operational and the second simply no longer had a purpose. The third dam included in this project was an encased wastewater interceptor that had become a low-head dam due to its scour on the downstream side of the encasement.

According to David Heilman of FlatLand Resources, a consultant to the SWCD, there were four reasons that this project was necessary:

  1. Low-head dams are a barrier to fish passage and prevent them from reaching historic spawning grounds. Removing them opens miles of river and stream passages for fish.
  2. Aquatic habitat is also degraded by low-head dams, because they reduce water and habitat quality for aquatic species. Removing them allows the streams or rivers to return to a natural state and can even reintroduce the ripple and pool structure of the stream or river.
  3. Low-head dams can be dangerous for recreational activities because of the back current that can be created during high water instances. Removing dams that are no longer necessary or improving the safety of dams that are in place can make the river safer and remove some liability and drowning hazards from the area.
  4. Taking into account the first three reasons for dam removal or modification, the project could provide an economic opportunity for cities that will now have water flowing through them. The increased safety of recreational activities can spur the growth of sectors for river sports and activities like paddle boarding and kayaking.

The project was completed in 2019, and individuals across the county are thrilled with the results.

“Following this project, we’ve seen an increase in interaction along the White River,” said Becky Daugherty, district soil health coordinator. “By removing two dams and modifying a third, we have given nature back part of its way in the White River.”

Since completion, the district has been able to secure funding for similar projects on the remaining dams in Muncie that need attention.

“This project, on this scale for a community of our size, was a first of its kind within the state of Indiana,” Heilman said. “It created more momentum in the movement of dam modification and removal within the region as a whole.”

Visit Flatland Resources’ YouTube page to watch a video of the two dams being removed in 2019.

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