It is a visitor weblog written by American Rivers’ accomplice, Buddies of the Cheat. Since 1994, Buddies of the Cheat have been working to revive, protect, promote the excellent pure qualities of the Cheat River watershed in West Virginia.
The Albright Energy Dam is considerably nearer to elimination, because of a $1 million enhance from the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Regulation. The West Virginia dam is one in all American Rivers’ 25 Dams to Watch in 2022—an inventory that highlights noteworthy dam elimination initiatives throughout the US. As soon as accomplished, this undertaking will open 75 miles of the Cheat River and tons of of miles of tributaries, providing great advantages to the native communities and ecosystems.
Led by FRIENDS OF THE CHEAT and in partnership with the area people, American Rivers, Trout Limitless, the West Virginia Division of Pure Assets, and others, the dam elimination might start as early as 2024. Buddies of the Cheat’s imaginative and prescient for the undertaking is to create a free-flowing river, with public entry for fishing, boating, birdwatching, swimming, picnicking, or any exercise revolving round secure river recreation.
American Rivers has been a lead accomplice on the efforts to take away the dam since 2018, offering important steerage and mentorship to Buddies of the Cheat’s employees. Serving on the undertaking implementation workforce, American Rivers helps companions discover artistic options to maneuver the undertaking ahead.
Eradicating the dam may have constructive impacts on the native ecosystem and neighborhood. Almost 40 fish species will as soon as once more be capable of migrate up and downstream to safe habitat and meals. Additionally, for the primary time in 70 years, local people members will be capable of recreate on this part of the Cheat River.
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A Historical past of Air pollution, Adopted by Restoration
The Cheat River had an extended historical past of poor water high quality as a result of heat water returns from the close by energy plant, acid mine drainage from legacy coal mining, and sedimentation from intensive logging. In 1995, American Rivers named the Cheat as one of many nation’s prime 10 most endangered rivers. Due to this air pollution, angling, and different recreation alternatives dropped drastically, because the river couldn’t maintain fish populations and different animal species.
Since then, Buddies of the Cheat has been working to revive the river. The Albright Energy Dam was initially constructed to feed the cooling towers of the coal-fired Albright Energy Station, which was decommissioned in 2012. The decommissioning created a brand new alternative for Buddies of the Cheat to work towards the dam’s elimination to additional enhance situations for the ecosystem, recreation, and the neighborhood.
Opening Up the Cheat for Fish and Wildlife
“I’m excited to see a wild river flowing unobstructed, particularly for walleye and different fish populations to develop and return to their native habitats,” Madison Ball, Buddies of the Cheat conservation program director.
Wholesome river ecosystems have quite a lot of prey and predator fish species, every with their very own particular roles and habitat preferences, and so they present nice leisure fishing alternatives.
The decrease Cheat River has just lately seen the return of pollution-sensitive species, reminiscent of walleye and smallmouth bass. The higher Cheat has a sturdy smallmouth bass fishery, however walleye haven’t been re-established right here after air pollution eradicated them from this a part of the river.
Now that the river is now not impaired, eradicating the Albright Energy Dam will reconnect these reaches, permitting walleye to maneuver upstream and rising angling alternatives. Along with accessing main tributaries, connection again to Cheat Lake can be necessary for walleye and different species’ long-term success.
Different aquatic wildlife will profit from the dam elimination. Japanese hellbender, an indicator species, and the biggest of U.S. salamander species may have extra habitat to assist their struggling populations. And freshwater mussels, which assist filter water, are additionally anticipated to thrive with a free-flowing river.
Eradicating a Security Hazard, Enhancing the Native Financial system
“Low head dams just like the Albright Energy Station Dam are most harmful to recreationalists,” Jim Snyder, Cheat River whitewater fanatic.
The water round Albright Energy Dam may be deceiving. The water pooling behind it could seem calm, however because it spills over the dam it might probably create currents that drown folks, even these sporting life jackets. The age of the construction and up to date traits in direction of elevated rain and extra widespread flooding occasions throughout the area are all trigger for concern if it’s not eliminated.
There’s additionally no established portage route across the Albright Energy Dam, vastly limiting recreation alternatives within the space. Eradicating the dam will assist folks entry this space safely, benefiting them and the financial system with a brand new stretch of river open for paddlers and fishing alternatives.
Federal funding for the undertaking got here from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nationwide Fish Passage Program. Companions on the Nationwide Fish and Wildlife Basis additionally supported the undertaking with a $460,000 in grant and matching funds via the Central Appalachia Habitat Stewardship Program.