Source: News-Journal, August 18, 2010
Dams Are Coming Down
Along Eel River by Amy Kraner
The benefits of two new Eel River
federal grants will flow all the way downriver to the Gulf
of Mexico. Both are products of the $1 million Middle Eel
River Watershed Initiative. $2.9 million over five years
will assist Eel River landowners and agribusinesses in
Kosciusko, Wabash and Miami counties to reduce phosphorus,
nitrogen and soil runoff. $120,000 over two years will
remove two Eel River dams, at Liberty Mills and North
Manchester, reconnecting 190 miles of river and its
“This is a lot of money that is going
to stay in this area, so it’s going to have a huge impact
from an economical standpoint as well as an environmental
one,” Jerry Sweeten, associate professor of biology and
director of environmental studies at Manchester College. The
college applied for the two grants.
The $2.9 million comes from the Natural
Resources Conservation Service3 as part of the new
Mississippi River Basin Initiative to avoid, control and
trap nutrient and soil runoff into streams while maintaining
The Eel River watershed was designated
a priority for the funding primarily because of the volume
of data collected by Manchester College scientists and
students over the past five years.
“Our relationship with the agricultural
community and our ability to monitor and detect changes in
nutrient export was central to bringing this money to our
area,” said Sweeten.
“Excess nutrients (phosphorus and
nitrogen) along with sediment entering the Eel River are
far-reaching,” said Sweeten. The Eel River flows into the
Wabash River, which flows into the Ohio River, which flows
into the Mississippi.
These excess nutrients and soil have
created a 6,000 square-mile hypoxic zone (low-dissolved
oxygen) in the Gulf of Mexico. “By reducing the nutrient
export from the Corn Belt region, it will hopefully reduce
the hypoxic zone and improve the water quality of the Eel
River,” said Sweeten.
Otherwise known as the “dead zone,”
Sweeten said the damage has been caused by runoff from 41
watersheds in twelve states, including the Eel River
watersheds in Indiana. Landowners will be provided financial
and technical assistance to implement best management
The funds will be used by landowners in
the Eel River watershed to initiate changes on their
property, and appropriated by soil conservation districts
and natural resources offices in the three counties.
Among possible best practices: cover
crops (such as rye grass) planted in the fall to protect
soil over the winter, buffers along streams, fencing
livestock away from the river and feeder streams, and
Interested landowners in Wabash County
may contact Sweeten for more info about the project in
general or District Conservationist Joe Updike for more info
on obtaining funds at (219)563-7486 ext. 104.
The other grant, the two-year $120,000
grant from the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership and
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, will finance removal of
two of the six degraded Eel River dams to enhance stream
habitat, fish passageways and recreational use. The dams are
located at North Manchester and Liberty Mills.
The dams are no longer functional and
are extremely dangerous, said Sweeten. A recent fatality at
the Stockdale Mill in Roann highlighted the danger of the
circulating water at the base of the dam for kayakers and
The North Manchester dam is highly
degraded, but still poses barriers to all but the strongest
swimming fish. Sweeten said that they’re not sure what
materials are inside or underneath the dam, but the plan is
to go in and excavate all of it out.
The dams at Liberty Mills and North
Manchester are the first significant dams to be removed in
Indiana for the National Fish Passageway Program. Scientific
studies of the river before and after removal will be
conducted by Manchester College scientists and students, and
the U.S. Geological Survey, Sweeten said. The work may begin
as early as this coming winter by Troy Eads Excavating Inc.
The remains of the dam are visible from
the Wabash Street Bridge. According to North Manchester
Historical Society records, it was built to power a flour
mill in 1879 by Henry Arnold and Daniel Strauss. The dam was
rebuilt at some point after its original construction.
The mill changed hands several times in
the early 1900s until a fire destroyed the building in 1923,
and then it was bought by the Northern Indiana Power Company
in 1929 to prevent the site from being used to generate
electricity and providing competition.
Several years later the power company
gave the mill site and four acres of land to the town with
the condition that it would never be used to generate
electricity. It’s now the site of the North Manchester
Street Department overlooking the river.
Sweeten said, “For way too long the Eel
River has been merely a resource for moving waste out of our
community and downstream. It’s time the tremendous
recreational and environmental potential the Eel River has
For more about the Middle Eel River
Watershed Initiative, contact Terri Michaelis, watershed
coordinator, at 982-5101 or see