Dam breach drops Rivanna, slowly
About 60 people gathered at Riverview Park this morning to celebrate the partial breaching of the historic Woolen Mills dam, which will be complete in the next two or three days. The dam, built in 1830 and rebuilt in 1870, is coming down one granite block at a time, says shad-man Jason Halbert (photo left), the Rivanna Conservation Society volunteer whose fascination with the nearly defunct fish led him to spearhead the breach effort over the past six years.
Not present at the gathering were Woolen Mills residents who objected to removal of the dam. "I know some of the neighbors are disappointed that their lake is going," says Halbert. "I urge them to remember the American shad– the major missing species from our lives." Indeed, the area once teemed with shad and TJ's birthplace– Shadwell– bears testimony to the proliferation of the native fish, soon decimated by the colonists.
The Rivanna River has dropped 4.5 feet so far with the removal of two-to-three layers of the block. "The water going over the dam is clear," says Halbert. "That's on purpose." The excavation crew waits until the river level lowers before removing more blocks.
Once freed from the dam's constraints, the Rivanna River is going to reshape its flow, predicts Alan Weaver from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. After the initial drop, the river level will rise again and clean out some of the debris that's resurfacing, says Weaver, pointing to a shopping cart. In the fall and spring, trees and shrubs will be planted along the river.
Joining the shad will be the American eel, which hosts freshwater mussels, says Weaver. "Reopening 16 miles on the Rivanna may not sound like a lot," says Weaver, "but it helps restore the habitat."