West Milton Low-head Dam Removal and Stillwater River Restoration Project

DAM REMOVAL AND HABITAT RESTORATION COMPLETED! Some details and photos are below AND more at our and pages (including videos).

 

West Milton Dam site pre removal - October 2014

 

DAY ONE - October 27, 2014 - the Dam is breeched and lowered 3 feet. A gradual lowering of the dam is prefered to enable rescue of freshwater mussels upriver of the dam.

DAY FIVE - October 31, 2014

Freshwater Mussel Rescue - October 31, 2014

Crews from Stantec, US FIsh & WIldlife Service, Ohio River Foundation work to rescue freshwater mussels exposed by the receding water as water flows from the impoundment through/over the lowered dam.

 

 

 

A few Federally Endangered Snuffbox mussels have been found far upriver of the dam

Three Ridge and Deer Toe mussels comprise the above haul.

Stillwater River Restoration

 

Live stake installation - willows, sycamores, cottonwoods -- April 2015

Dam site June 2015

 

Below sections: Summary, Status, Meeting Schedule, Public Comment/feedback, Q & A.

Summary

Ohio River Foundation coordinated efforts to remove the West Milton lowhead dam on the Stillwater River.  The removal of this non-operating dam (1) reconnected 200 miles of the upper Stillwater River watershed to the downstream section, (2) removed a safety hazard and potential source of liability, (3) avoided current and future repair costs, and (4) presented additional recreational and economic oppotunities.  The 100 year-old dam's condition was deteriorating and sponsor funding was available to remove the dam at no cost to the Village of West Milton.  West Milton, Ohio DNR, USFWS, Ohio EPA, US Army Corps of Engineers, Stillwater River Watershed Council, and other agencies and entities supported removal of this dam.

MORE DAM PHOTOS HERE

Status

2015

Restoration work completed.

2014

Permit for removal was issued October 22, 2014. Removal activities began October 27, 2014. The dam removal was completed by December 1, 2014.

2013

Permit applications filed with US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). USACE was the lead agency for the permitting process.

2011-2012

Site investigations and project designs performed, pursuant to requirements under the WRRSP approved plan.  Permit applications prepared for filing.

2010

In November 2010, the Ohio EPA issued an Environmental Assessment Document available HERE that finds no adverse impact from the dam removal. After public comments were received, it confirmed its decision in December 2010 in a Final Findings of No Significant Impact, stating that "no significant, substantive comments were received which would contradict our initial decision."

Public Information Meetings

To supplement information presented at prior meetings in March, April, and July 2010 -- and that available on this website --public informational meetings were held as follows:

Wednesday, November 10, West Milton High School cafeteria, 221 Jefferson St. 45383-1599

4pm-8pm: Open House - on opportunity to speak directly with project representatives in an informal setting. (11/10/10 log - 12 attendees)

Friday, November 12, Brukner Nature Center, 5995 Horseshoe Bend Rd., Troy, OH  45373-9485

10am-1pm. (11/12/10 log - 5 attendees)

Tuesday, November 16, West Milton High School cafeteria, 221 Jefferson St. 45383-1599

6pm-9pm.  (11/16/10 log - 26 attendees)

Saturday, November 20, United Church of Christ, 108 S. Main St., West Milton, OH 45383

10am-1pm. A Project summary will be presented at this meeting and then a Citizen Project Advisory Group Workshop - a forum for citizens to discuss project and post-dam removal economic opportunities. (11/20/10 log - 20 attendees)

Here are the presentations from those meetings: ODNR -Scenic Rivers, OEPA, ONDR -FWS, Overview, ONDR - Groundwater & Wells, MCD - Groundwater & Wells

Public Comments/Feedback

ODNR and OEPA issued 3 letters in response to public comments: ODNR Aug 2010, ODNR Oct 2010, OEPA Oct 2010

Questions and Answers

This section will provide answers and links to documents, and websites concerning topics, case studies, and issues investigated and discussed as a part of the decisionmaking process pertaining to the dam removal. 

The following Q & A has been adopted from a list posted on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website.  Importantly, the ODNR list states questions that SHOULD be addressed.  There is no requirement for the questions to be answered or considered before any final decision is made.  They are merely questions to assist in the decisionmaking process.

The list below includes questions from the ODNR list AND also adds more information and questions (in-part based upon questions raised by citizens at meetings in March, April, and July) to provide the public an accessible informational resource.  Furthermore, should new or additional questions or facts be identified, this list of questions will be amended, as necessary.

General Questions

Where is the Dam Located?

West Milton, Union Township
Miami County
GPS coordinates: 39.58’ 37.07” N  84.19’ 30.35” W

River or Stream Name:

Stillwater River

Type of Structure: Low-head Dam

When was the dam constructed? 1918

Why was the dam constructed?

Hydropower for local for local trolley 

Who currently owns the dam? Municipality of West Milton

What is the Basic Purpose/Reason for considering the dam for removal?

Public Safety and River Restoration

What group is assisting West Milton with its efforts to remove the dam?

Ohio River Foundation

Who are the major stakeholders involved in the discussion?

General Public, riverbank homeowners, Village of West Milton, ODNR, OEPA, USFWS.

What are the past, current and future potential uses of the dam and its pool?

Past use was hydropower and then water supply in the 1960s after being deeded to West Milton by Dayton Power & Light.  Subsequently, the water supply was found not to be of acceptable quality and West Milton connected to Troy public water.  Current use is recreation.  Future use would be recreation.

What are the future potential uses of the stream/river if the dam is removed?

More diverse recreation use: wading, thru boating, more diverse wildlife.

How many dams have been removed in the U.S. and Ohio?

More than 500 dams have been removed in the U.S. and more than 30 in Ohio.

Are there case studies and other resources of information about low-head dam removal?

Yes!  An excellent source of such information can be found at www.amrivers.org.

Dam Safety and Security Issues

Does the dam fall under the Ohio Dam Safety Program? Yes.

Does the dam currently meet dam safety standards? No. The dam needs to be repaired as it's condition is deteriorating. See Dam Safety Report 2010                   Dam Safety Report 2000

Can the dam be repaired?  If so,…at what cost?

Current cost estimates range from $800,000 - $2million.

Can the dam be replaced?

The estimated cost for replacement of the dam is $1.8 million.  The new reinforced concrete dam will cost approximately $1.3 million (2,700 cubic yards x $500/cubic yard).  The additional costs of $500,000 will include work for footer excavation, bank stabilization, stream mitigation, site revegetation and restoration, clearing, utility relocationdesign, construction, and permitting. (Stantec, Inc.)

Is there a significant potential for loss of life, injury, and/or property damage if the dam should fail or be removed?  

If the dam fails, injury or loss of life could occur if people are close to the downstream side of the dam.  Furthermore, any downstream docks could suffer damage in any ensuing washout.

Is the dam vulnerable to failure because of either aging or inadequate maintenance? Yes. See above referenced Dam Safety Reports

Description of current condition. See Dam Safety Reports (links above)

What are the major deficencies? See Dam Safety Reports (links above)

Is the dam vulnerable to acts of terrorism? No.

Are people safe around the dam? No, see above.

Boating safety - hydraulics, roller, exist to present “drowning machines” for boaters who go over the dam during high flow.

Playing on dam (broken concrete, slipping off, etc.) – Dam is an attractive nuisance where such injuries could occur.

Safe portages – None have been constructed.

Have there been any injuries or death caused by the presence or condition of the dam? None reported.

Have injuries or death been associated with low-head dams in Ohio?

Yes.  As recent as a few years ago, after decades without incident at the Englewood Dam, 2 people died after being caught in the turbulence on the downstream side of the dam.

Would safety be improved if the dam is removed? Yes.

Environmental Issues

What is the current condition of the biological community in the project area?

Based on the combined results of the fish and macroinvertebrate sampling in the Stillwater River, the
free-flowing sites (RMs 20.2 and 18.0) were fully attaining the Exceptional Warmwater Habitat biological
criteria listed in the Ohio Water Quality Standards. The impounded sampling site on the Stillwater River
was partially attaining the EWH biological criteria, due to decreased quality of the macroinvertebrate
community. (see OEPA November 30, 2010 Biological and Habitat Assessment Stillwater River-West Milton)

While fishing in certain areas was not affected, large areas in the impounded area upstream of the dam were subject to summertime algal blooms.

Will removal of the structure help to enhance the recovery of threatened or endangered species? Yes.  Restoration of small river habitat and migration opportunities for fish and mussels will greatly enhance recovery opportunities

 

What species? Several freshwater mussel species are state and federal threatened and endangered.  Removal of the dam will improve habitat and enhance recovery opportunities.

Description of how dam removal will enhance the recovery of the species? As a part of their life cycle, freshwater mussels depend upon the attachment to and movement of fish species.  Dam removal will enable greater fish movement and migration, enhancing mussel survival and propagation.

Will there be mudflats?

There could be mudflats created in the bank/exposed area…not in the channel. This bank area will gradually be recolonized by riparian/upland zone species.

What species may need to be reintroduced to the exposed mudflats/bank areas after dam removal? Natural succession will happen rapidly with native species such as willow, sycamore, and silver maple. 

What costs would be associated with this effort? Labor, planning, and planting supply costs would be associated with this effort.  Funds for restoration work are included in the WRRSP Implementation Budget.

Will removal of the structure lead to changes in unwanted invasive species? The biggest issue will be control of invasive plants like honeysuckle and garlic mustard that could colonize the newly exposed riparian areas. 

Are there likely to be problems associated with contaminated sediments currently contained behind the dam if the dam is removed?

Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  The sediment is not contaminated.

What contaminated sediments are of concern? Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  The sediment is not contaminated.

What data has been collected on contaminated sediments? By whom? Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  The sediment is not contaminated.

What analysis has been completed on contaminated sediments? Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  The sediment is not contaminated.

What are the cost estimates associated with removing, sampling, testing and disposal of the sediments? Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  An analysis is pending.

Will removing the dam cause sediment to move downstream to help build beaches? There will probably be some initial movement if there is no dredging/removal of accumulated sediments. 

Are there other potential beneficial uses for the removed sediments? Sediment sampling has been performed (data here).  An analysis is pending.

What is the stream’s/river’s natural ability to carry sediments and how does this relate to the sediments currently deposited behind the dam? As with any flowing river, once the dam is removed the river will carry sediment depending upon water volume and sediment composition.

Will dam removal lead to a net gain or loss in wetland area?

Some wetland formation may have occurred in areas adjacent to impoundment; however, any loss of these associated wetlands will be offset by reclaimed historic wetlands that will be re-established after the dam removal is completed.

Have so many other changes occurred in addition to the dam that removal of the dam will not achieve the desired ecosystem restoration goals?

No other substantive semi-permanent or permanent changes have been identified.

How will new lands created by the dam removal be used?

Wildlife habitat.

What is the relationship of the dam and its removal to other parts of the watershed?

Removal of the dam will reconnect 200 river miles (this includes mainstem and upstream tributaries) to the downstream section. The only other identified structure that prevents upstream/downstream movement of biological resources is a structure at Bears Mill Road on Greenville Creek. (source: Stillwater River Watershed Coordinator). 

Post-removal the Stillwater River will become the longest free-flowing river in Ohio.

How will drinking water supplies be affected?

Based upon opinions and data from Miami Conservancy District and ODNR, minimal to no impact is seen to drinking wells in the area. (See Miami Conservancy District presentation,ODNR - Groundwater presentation)

How will groundwater tables be affected?

See MCD ODNR presentations referenced above.

What time of year would be ideal for the dam removal?

Considering safety, weather, environmental issues such as fish spawning, flooding, etc., August/September would be the best time for removal.

Legal and Administrative Issues

Are there current existing or potential conflicts with laws and regulations designed to protect natural systems? (e.g., Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Flood Insurance Program, FERC, Navigation ? Section 10 Rivers and Harbors Act, COE 404)

No.  Permits for the project will be pursued under sections 401 and 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Are there current existing or potential conflicts with laws and regulations designed to protect social, historical, or cultural values? (e.g., National Historic Preservation Act, tribal water rights)

No.  An historic preservation consultant will be retained to investigate the area, in conjunction with a permit evaluation by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

Are there any conservation easements?

In 2002, as a condition precedent to West Milton placing a water main under the Stillwater River, the village passed a resolution (here) supporting ODNR’s efforts to remove the West Milton dam (ODNR letter HERE discussing issue).  The resolution referenced the intent to create a conservation easement preserving ODNR’s access to the property.  There is no record of such an easement being created or recorded. 

Are there permits necessary prior to removal?

Appropriate and necessary permits will be obtained prior to removal.

Are there existing contracts for water supply and delivery that would be affected by dam removal?

No.

Are there 6f or 4f conversion issues might be a factor if certain Federal $ were used? No.  The area involved does not concern transportation projects, nor involve property that was acquired using funding from the federal Land and Conservation Fund Act (established in 1964).

Social Issues

Are there changes in the types of, and access to, recreational opportunities?

Yes.  The river in the currently impounded area will revert back to its historic small river habitat from its current lake river habitat.

How many current recreational boaters, anglers, or other recreational users will be impacted?

Not yet determined.

Is the impact positive or negative (perceived and actual)?

Both.  Feedback from some current anglers indicates that, even though the fishery will become more diverse, the impact is perceived as negative by them as the restoration of small river habitat will favor small river fish, and populations of large river and lake fish will decrease.  The boaters comprise low power boaters and canoes and kayaks.  The impact should favor greater hand-power boat use as thru-travel on the river will be achieved.  Furthermore, a local livery will be able to provide thru-paddle trips and access to its home base 1 mile downstream of the dam.

Are there effects on local and regional populations in terms of economics or economic stability (or lack thereof), displacement, water supply, and or loss of access to traditional use areas?

A few riverside property owners have expressed concern that rental fees for sportsmen may be negatively affected.

Are there direct and indirect effects on the cultural relationships of the peoples to the landscape?

People have memories of recreating in and around the impoundment area over the last 50 years. 

Are there direct and indirect impacts related to any necessary service that was provided by the dam, and how will this service be replaced?

No.

How will dam removal affect aesthetic values in the area for individual property owners or the area in general?

Overall aesthetics will change from big river/lake values/views in exchange for free-flowing small river ones.

Does the dam honor someone in particular?

No.

Are there historical values associated with the dam or the pool it creates?

None yet determined.

Economic Issues

What are the long-term and short-term costs of maintaining the dam versus the cost of removing the dam?

Have all costs and benefits been identified? Yes.

Are there accurate cost and time estimates for the project? Yes.  The project is estimated to cost $1.3 million and dam removal to be completed by November 2011.

Have risks and uncertainties been thoroughly explored and identified? Yes.  By obtaining funding through the WRRSP program, funding of the $1.3 million is secured.  

How is the project being funded?

The State of Ohio administers a Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program that provides funding for water resource protection and restoration projects by designating interest payments from public water utility infrastructure loans to pay for the projects.  Supplemental funding is also being provided by a National Fish Habitat Action Plan grant from the US FIsh & Wildlife Service.

After submitting the project nomination earlier this year, this project received a high ranking; however, subsequent to the ranking publication (see attached, p.56) a lower ranked project was moved above the West Milton project so project funding was not expected for 2010.  In October we were advised that the “lower ranked project” would not be moving forward and so the West Milton project was re-positioned to obtain 2010 funding.

$50,000 was budgeted in the WRRSP application for education; however, it was not approved by OEPA-DEFA. 

Who is financially responsible for the dam and for any damage that might occur if the dam were breached (intentionally breached or breached during a flood event)?

Municipality of West Milton

What are the potential costs (estimates) of repair and annual maintenance of the existing facility?

$250,000-$750,000 for repair.  Annual maintenance has not been calculated.

What is the status of the repayment on the debt for the project?

N/A

Has it met the financial criteria defined in its authorization language if it was a public project?

N/A

Are there financial criteria that must be met or maintained if the project is funded with international or public funds?

N/A

Is the dam providing a service that will need to be replaced by some alternative, and what is its cost?

No.

What are the costs of alternative measures to mitigate project impacts? The project mitigation costs are associated with in-corridor restoration work.  Funds have been budgeted for this work; however, discussions have not yet taken place with corridor landowners to determine participation and scope of restoration work.

How will property values be affected?

There is no evidence, based upon dam removals in other regions of the U.S., that property values will be negatively affected.  HERE are some studies and more information: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and webpage

How do the owners of the dam perceive the alternatives and their potential liability?

Owner wishes to remove all liability risk.

How does the owner of the dam perceive any conflicts over removal?

Main general public (both West Milton resident and non-resident) concerns are: (1) loss of recreation, (2) reduced property values, and (3) impact to drinking wells.

Hydropower

Is the river a suitable hydroelectric resource?

The river has inconsistent year-round flow (range of 125 cfs to 1300 cfs).  Therefore, use as a dependable source of power would be questionable. 

Can enough power be generated at this location to justify hydroelectric conversion? Hydropower feasibility has not been verified; however, a formula exists to compute the possible power generated at a hydro site: Kw(kilowatts) = .0846(a power conversion constant) x E(average 50% efficiency) x Q(flow rate) x H(head or intake height).  Based upon the height of the dam (13ft.) – or replacement dam – and the flow (432cfs average per USGS data), approximately 238kw of possible power could be generated annually; however, the inconsistent flow of the river calls into question the reliability of using an average flow number in the calculation and reliance on this computation. 

Is conversion of the existing structure into a hydroelectric facility feasible?

No. It is the opinion of agency representatives and the removal project manager (Stantec) that the dam is not in suitable condition to serve functional use.  It would have to be replaced with a support dam behind it.  The cost of the dam would be approximately $926,00: 676,000 concrete + $250,000 design, permitting, etc.

Furthermore, hydroelectric permitting can take more than 10 years with approval from state and federal agencies (including Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) required.  During that application period any repairs or failure of the current dam will be the responsibility and risk of the owner.

What are the Pros and Cons of hydropower?

Notwithstanding the economic feasibility discussed above, hydropower has both Pros and Cons:  

Pros

  • Dams can store rain water or water directly from the river itself. Then, in case of a drought, the dam will still have a relatively constant supply of water.
  • Controls flooding & provides recreational activities such as boating fishing and swimming, if the lake is not being used for drinking water.
  • Simple design makes for inexpensive repairs and maintenance costs.
  • Produce inexpensive (after completion) and clean power.
  • Renewable energy source, because the water is not destroyed by passing through the dam.
  • If needed, dams can be shut down instantly, where thermal plants take hours, and nuclear plants can take days.
  • Very few breakdowns. 

Cons

  • Hydroelectric power production requires flooding of entire valleys and scenic areas.
  • Disrupts natural seasonal changes in he river, and ecosystems can be destroyed.
  • Ends flooding that help to clean out the silt in rivers, causing them to clog.
  • The silt that usually flows down to the beaches and estuaries is blocked by the dam.
  • Studies show that the plant decay caused downstream of major dams produces as many greenhouse gasses as more conventional methods of producing electricity.
  • Dams are expensive to build, and due to drought may become useless, or produce much less power than originally planned.
  • Dams can break in a massive flash flood.
  • Endangered and threatened species are not allowed to recover.

Management Issues

How does the existing structure fit into the overall management plan for the river system?

The Stillwater River Watershed Action Plan states that removal of the dam is part of the plan to improve water quality and the ecology of the watershed (see attached).  The dam also conflicts with the goals of the state’s Scenic Rivers Program – the Stillwater River is designated a State Scenic River.

Is it a critical element to meeting any legal agreements and providing a service to the local economy such as flood control, water supply, power production, irrigation, fire protection, or recreation?

The structure is an impediment to the overall river achieving exceptional warm water habitat status.

Do the operations fit into a broader context of river basin control?

No.

Will flood control alternatives need to be formulated once the dam is removed?

No.

Will modification need to be made to structures upstream or downstream of the dam such as bridges, road culverts or other dams?

No.

What are the sources of funding that have been identified for removal or restoration efforts?

Current funding is being provided by a small grant (from USFWS through the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership/National Fish Habitat Action Plan) to Ohio River Foundation to conduct some tests and facilitate the dam removal process.  Additional funding is being pursued from the Ohio WRRSP program.

Adjacent Property Owner Rights

What restoration opportunities exist for property owners adjacent to the water impounded area?

There will be funds available for restoration work in the dam impoundment.  Adjacent property owners can benefit from restoration work, pursuant to these project funds, however, each participating owner will have to enter into an environmental covenant with OEPA to protect the environmental benefits of any restoration work. 

Public Involvement and Decision Making

Who are the major stakeholders? West Milton, local homeowners, OEPA, ODNR, USFWS

What are the stakeholders opinions about dam removal? All resource agencies support the dam’s removal.  Some resident and non-resident citizens oppose its removal on recreation, property, and drinking water impact concerns.  These concerns will be addressed at informational meetings hosted by West Milton in November 2010.

What plans have been made to involve the public?

Public information meetings are scheduled for dates in November 2010.  Previously, citizens had voiced their concerns at council meetings and a July meeting sponsored by Save the Dam.  Starting in January 2013, adjacent landowners will be contacted regarding restoration work potential for their property.  Furthermore, formation of a Citizens Project Advisory Group will be encouraged to explore economic opportunities during the project and post-dam removal. (A CPAG was not formed.)

Has the public been notified?

Yes, via public electronic billboard, postcards, and emails.

What is the general public opinion?

Approximately 5,000 citizens live in West Milton with more in the surrounding communities.  General public opinion has not been determined; however, several West Milton residents and non-residents (especially those living adjacent to the impoundment) have voiced their concerns about impacts to fishing, property values, and drinking wells.

What political issues have been identified?

Homeowners in Union Township who live along the impounded area oppose the dam’s removal; however, the dam is located in West Milton (which also owns the dam).

Who are the primary local, regional, state and federal political stakeholders?

West Milton, Union Township, OEPA, ODNR, USFWS

How will information on the project be communicated to all interested parties?

Website www.ohioriverfdn.org, informational meetings, public hearings pertaining to permits, if necessary.

What are the main factors in the decision making process?

Key issues are: Private landowners issues, safety, financial liability, and recreation. 

Private landowners concerns: The concerns are listed above and actual impacts are expected to be none or minimal relative to those concerns, with the exception of the change in recreation habitat from a big river/lake one to a small river one.

Liability.  As long as the dam continues to exist, the village remains potentially liable for any personal injuries suffered and any expenses associated with maintenance and repair of the structure(s).

Cost.  If the village is successful in obtaining full funding for removal (at no cost to the village), then it is interested in proceeding with removal.

How will the final decision be made?

Village of West Milton has the final decision.

When will decisions be made?

Different agencies need to provide permits and approvals for the project to proceed.  It is expected that in mid-December WRRSP funds will become available to begin the permit application process and continue the public process.  Depending upon agency approvals, actual dam removal would not take place before August or September 2012.