Derelict dam removed in Northfield

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Derelict dam removed in Northfield

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:47am -- tim

Reconnects 26 miles of fish habitat and creates safe public access. Owners Jonathan and Lisa Burr. Courtesy photos.

Vermont Business Magazine Friends of the Winooski River, working with local landowners Lisa and Jonathan Burr, removed a breached 100-foot long concrete dam that was posing safety hazards and causing property damage on a former summer camp in Northfield that is now The Woods Lodge, a local inn and retreat center.

The crumbling structure blocked fish passage on Bull Run, a tributary to the Dog River, and its removal eliminates the last barrier to its headwaters, and opens up 26-miles of stream habitat, creating better cold-water conditions for fish, like brook trout. Access to cold headwaters is especially important as climate change brings us warmer summers; trout need a refuge from the warm, dry conditions we see this year.

“We are really pleased to have worked with Friends of the Winooski on this dam removal project, which is a win-win for both people and nature. Our local community, as well as guests of The Woods Lodge and visitors to Vermont, will now have access to what was once a hazardous area. We are excited to be able to allow public access, so everyone can enjoy Bull Run’s cool waters on hot summer days—including the fish!” Lisa Burr said.

There are over 1000 dams on Vermont rivers, many of which are vestiges from the industrial era. Hundreds of these “deadbeat” dams no longer serve any purpose except to block fish, limit public access and pose safety hazards. Dam removal reconnects rivers and fish habitat, improves flood resiliency and offers improved recreational opportunities for fishing and paddling.

Friends of the Winooski River began the project by in 2018, hiring Milone & MacBroom, Inc (MMI) to conduct a feasibility study and design for removal at the former Camp Wihakowi. Fundraising and permitting continued through 2019, leading up to about twelve weeks of excavation work by Hilltop Construction this summer. Once complete, 24,000 cubic yards of sediment that had built up behind the dam will be removed—the equivalent of more than 1500 full dump trucks.

“Removing derelict dams immediately improves the health of our rivers and fish,” said Michele Braun, executive director of Friends of the Winooski. “These projects demand a great deal of planning, resources, and expertise, and require a network of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community members paddling in the same direction to free Vermont’s rivers.”

​Northfield Historical Society Photo of the dam and reservoir in operation, undated.

The Camp Wihakowi Dam (ID# 143.08) creates an impoundment and a barrier to aquatic organism passage on Bull Run in Northfield. The dam was built circa 1920 to create a large pond for a youth summer camp. A small portion of the dam was breached in the late 20th century, but the dam continues to hold nearly 100 years’ worth of accumulated sediment behind it. 

The dam failure may be a gradual process, or a sudden failure could occur during a high-flow event. In either case, the impounded sediment will be released downstream and make its way to Lake Champlain. A sudden release would destabilize downstream reaches, and have a significant negative impact on habitat and biota.

Bull Run rises in Roxbury and flows north into the Dog River in Northfield. The total watershed area of Bull Run is approximately 9.3 square miles, with 8.6 square miles above the Camp Wihakowi Dam. Bull Run contains abundant brook trout upstream and downstream of the Camp Wihakowi Dam, and it is a B1 water for fishing.

Removing the Camp Wihakowi Dam would restore fish passage to at least 6.3 miles of main stem river (third order or larger), as well as many more miles in smaller tributaries. It would allow native trout to access miles of upstream habitat that will be critical for providing cold water refuge as temperatures rise.

The partial breach of the dam notwithstanding, the dam continues to disrupt downstream sediment transport, resulting in upstream sediment accumulation and downstream scour. During Tropical Storm Irene, and other recent large storms, the dam is reported to have exacerbated upstream flooding, which caused severe erosional damage to land and infrastructure. Removal of the dam, which is located at the head of a bedrock reach, would restore stream equilibrium and reduce downstream erosion.

Friends of the Winooski River (FWR) is working to remove the Camp Wihakowi Dam. Goals of the removal project include minimizing environmental impacts, and taking measures to restore natural stream processes. Accomplishments, as noted above, include floodplain restoration and improved aquatic and terrestrial habitat.

Funding is provided by The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Natural Resources Council, LCBP, Vermont DEC, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.

Friends of the Winooski River completed the project with funding and technical support from multiple partners: Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, Lake Champlain Basin Program, The Nature Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Source: Friends of the Winooski River 9.1.2020 Northfield