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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 tributaries.

“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 agricultural productivity.

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 practices.

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 restoring wetlands.

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 canoeists.

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. of Lagro.

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 becomes recognized.”

For more about the Middle Eel River Watershed Initiative, contact Terri Michaelis, watershed coordinator, at 982-5101 or see