Work is underway to remove the Harvell Dam on the Appomattox River — with removal of the concrete spillway scheduled to begin on Tuesday, July 15. As the first obstruction on the river, the Harvell Dam has long been deemed the most critical fish passage site on the Appomattox and one of the highest priority sites for migratory fish restoration in Virginia. The project will re-open 127 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish, such as American and hickory shad, American eel, and river herring. Once complete, the dam removal is also expected to enhance recreational boating and fishing, providing an estimated $68 million economic boost to the area.
“Removing the Harvell dam will provide migratory fish like shad and herring greater access to their historical spawning grounds and will return this section of the Appomattox to a free-flowing river,” said David K. Whitehurst, Director, Bureau of Wildlife Resources, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The project is a collaborative effort of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Rivers, and the Harvell Dam Corporation, with support from the City of Petersburg.
Both American shad and river herring populations have drastically declined from their historical numbers due to over-fishing and loss of habitat. Access to spawning and rearing grounds within the watershed is a critical component in the effort to restore these valuable migratory fish species.
The Harvell Dam, originally constructed to generate hydropower, will be the sixteenth dam removed within the Chesapeake Bay drainage in Virginia since 2004. Its removal will contribute to the nearly 1000 miles of river and stream habitat already reopened to migratory and resident fish species, and help to attain the Chesapeake Bay fish passage overall goal of opening an additional 1000 stream miles by 2025. Full removal is expected to be completed by early September.
Funding for dam removal implementation is made possible by grants from the Service’s National Fish Passage Program and NOAA’s Open Rivers Initiative program. Feasibility and additional engineering funding was provided by VDGIF and the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.
The Harvell Dam is just one of more than 84,000 dams in the U.S., many of which require significant repairs or upgrades. As these figures continue to climb—groups like the American Society of Civil Engineers estimate a repair bill of more than $21 billion—there has been a shift toward removing dams that no longer serve their intended purposes or where the dam’s costs outweigh its benefits. As a result, more than 1,143 dams have been removed across the U.S. over the past 100 years. A great example of successful restoration is the VDGIF’s documentation of American Shad and Blueback Herring utilizing over 28 additional miles of the Rappahannock River after Embrey Dam was removed in 2004. Furthermore, Hickory Shad, Alewife and Striped Bass have been documented, and significant American Eel population increases in the upper watershed have been directly linked to the dam removal.