Get dam facts straight

I write as a volunteer with the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS) in response to Dan Sebring's and William W. Stevenson's letters [April 6: "Cry me a river" and "Shad v. drinking water"].

Both writers seem to be unaware of the facts related to the removal of the Woolen Mills dam. Because this dam is privately owned, RCS has worked carefully to respect the owners' privacy while presenting the idea to the public (we hosted several public meetings).

First, Mr. Stevenson's claim that this is a case of shad vs. drinking water is incorrect. The removal of the Woolen Mills dam will open roughly 16 miles of new spawning habitat and does not require the removal of any other dam. Every additional mile of spawning habitat for American shad counts toward Virginia's goals in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Drinking water is not threatened by this project.

Second, dams do not help the ecology of rivers. I'm happy to provide Mr. Sebring with ample scientific evidence of that fact.

Third, we tested the sediment behind the Woolen Mills dam, and it is not toxic, contrary to Mr. Sebring's claim. Sediment flows over the dam in every high-water storm. The results of our study and more are available on the RCS website:

Finally, the proposed breach will leave a significant portion of the dam standing for historical interpretation. Despite what some would like to believe, history did not begin in 1776, or even 1743. The history of Charlottesville's river included a shad run each spring for hundreds of thousands of years before humans arrived.

RCS, the state of Virginia, the Federal government, and the owners of the dam are trying to restore what was once the most valuable and abundant fishery in Virginia while respecting recent American history. A Rivanna without American shad is like the Blue Ridge without the American chestnut.

We invite everyone to Darden Towe Park on April 19 at 11am as the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries releases thousands of American shad fry into the river. We hope Charlottesville will welcome them home from the Atlantic in four to six years.

Jason Halbert