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NC Dam Restoration Project to Boost Wildlife Habitat

Part of renovating the Payne Branch Dam involves improving wildlife habitat along Boone's Greenway Trail. (Michelle Ligon/Explore Boone)
Part of renovating the Payne Branch Dam involves improving wildlife habitat along Boone's Greenway Trail. (Michelle Ligon/Explore Boone)
June 12, 2020

BOONE, N.C. - A damn restoration project set to start next month in western North Carolina is expected to improve water quality for thousands of local residents and enhance wildlife habitat in the Boone area.

Years of damage and deterioration of the 100-year-old Payne Branch Dam along the Middle Fork of the New River have meant high sediment levels and more storm water flowing downstream to Boone.

Charles Anderson, project developer with the conservation group Resource Institute, says this pooling has contaminated water for wildlife and affected both recreation and drinking water supplies in Boone.

"Our objective is to go in and remove the dam completely, and take out all the sediment that we possibly can remove," says Anderson. "In order to provide better protection downstream - to the water resources, to the aquatic habitat and for recreational use as well."

The renovation will be part of the future extension of Boone's Greenway Trail, which provides outdoor recreational space to thousands of North Carolinians.

Payne Branch Dam, built by New River Light and Power, was the first electricity source to serve the northwest mountains of North Carolina. It was decommissioned in the early 1970s, says NRLP engineering supervisor Matt Makdad, who's working on the new project.

He points out that when the dam was shut down, silt and debris settled, causing damage to fish and animal habitats.

"By taking the dam out, opening the river up a little bit more, that creates a better environment, cooler water temperatures, that better support the natural habitat," says Makdad.

As of 2018, more than 1,500 dams have been removed in the U.S, according to a report by the group American Rivers. As a result, communities in 18 states have successfully reconnected more than 1,200 river miles to restore fish passage and access to natural habitat.

Disclosure: Resource Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - NC