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Green River dam removal underway, largest dam removal in Ky. history

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 4:02 PM CDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ky. (WBKO) - Five Kentucky conservation partners celebrated the removal of the state’s largest dam Monday morning in Butler County.

The process to remove Green River Lock and Dam #5 began in June, with the project giving way to a more accessible and safer river. The $4.6 million project is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program.

“It’s very much a work in progress,” said David Phemister, State Director for the Nature Conservancy in Kentucky. “The bigger work is this lock chamber. So we had a 300 yard-lot chamber. Walls at the base, or 15 feet solid concrete. So they’ve been hammering on those and that lock chamber is now virtually gone.”

According to the Nature Conservancy, the dam has stood unused for 70 years. Rather than a free-flowing river that provides great habitats for fish, and mussels, the dam currently in place creates a ‘pooled condition.’

“It has lower dissolved oxygen, higher temperatures in the summer, more sediment-- none of those things are good for fish and wildlife. So with the dam out, we’ll have a much healthier, more vibrant river for species of all sorts,” said Phemister.

The major project is twenty years in the making, and the benefits of the removal range from better river access, an opportunity to stimulate rural economies, to ecosystem restoration.

“This is going to turn the river back to its natural condition. And that’s great for the different species that live here. And it is a very environmentally diverse river, and this will help restore it back to its natural state,” said Eric Crispino, Commander for the Louisville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

While the Green River is home to endangered species, this removal could potentially save them, while allowing other species to increase.

“Species are going to thrive are really important to us or sportfish species like black bass, particularly smallmouth bass and rock bass. They are riverine species, and so they’ll thrive much more in an un-impounded river than in the impounded river,” explained Dave Dreves, Acting Director of Fisheries, Fisheries division for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The area won’t ever be completely closed off, removing the dam in 18-inch sections at a time.

The Green River is home to nine endangered muscle species, endangered fish and freshwater shrimp species.

Officials say the dam removal is made possible by the Nature Conservancy (TNC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance (KWA).

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