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Dam Pallids
Midwest Region, May 20, 2011
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This GoogleEarth Image shows the dilapidated concrete, steel and timber dam on the Osage River. Note the hydraulic jump and turbulence in the lock structure at low water (upper center of image). (courtesy of Google Earth)
This GoogleEarth Image shows the dilapidated concrete, steel and timber dam on the Osage River. Note the hydraulic jump and turbulence in the lock structure at low water (upper center of image). (courtesy of Google Earth) - Photo Credit: n/a
Josh Hundley, Columbia Ecological Services, releases a pallid sturgeon captured at L&D#1 on the Osage River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Josh Hundley, Columbia Ecological Services, releases a pallid sturgeon captured at L&D#1 on the Osage River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
Josh Hundley holds a pallid sturgeon captured off the lock wall at L&D#1 on the Osage River. A USGS telemetry boat can be seen surveying in the background. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Josh Hundley holds a pallid sturgeon captured off the lock wall at L&D#1 on the Osage River. A USGS telemetry boat can be seen surveying in the background. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

In an attempt to conquer and control nature to make our lives easier, we humans have drastically altered our landscape.  Scientific literature widely supports the notion that habitat loss is the greatest threat to our native wildlife.  An estimated 47% of endangered or threatened species are affected by aquatic habitat alterations. 

Included in the category of aquatic habitat loss is water development, dams, impoundments, low water crossings and even culverts.  Pallid sturgeon can be described as the “poster child” for endangered species due to habitat loss as rivers and tributaries throughout its range have been channelized, leveed and dammed.  Last year Columbia Ecological Services Office began a project to determine if pallid sturgeon were using the lower Osage River, a tributary to the Missouri River with two reservoirs and three dams, and if Lock and Dam #1 could be a barrier to these endangered fish.  Columbia FWCO partnered with our sister ES office to complete a second year of sampling on the lower Osage River.

Lock and Dam #1 (L&D#1) is a dilapidated concrete, steel and timber structure from the days of steamboat commerce on the Missouri River.  It was built around the turn of the 20th century and has been non-functional since 1951. While L&D#1 isn’t functional, it still presents a barrier to aquatic organisms at certain water levels.  Flows in the lower Osage River are extremely variable because of hydroelectric peak power generation from Bagnell Dam, some 80 miles upstream.  Even the Missouri River can affect water levels on the Osage, causing water to back up 12 miles to L&D#1 when water stages are high on the mainstem Missouri.  At lower flows, the sills of the dam are exposed and debris in the narrow lock opening form a dramatic hydraulic plunge that is impassible by fish or humans.

In 2010, four weeks of sampling through April and May using trotlines baited with earthworms resulted in the capture of three pallid sturgeon and one pallid x shovelnose sturgeon hybrid near the base of the dam.  Other species of note captured during last year’s sampling include 638 shovelnose sturgeon, 30 state endangered lake sturgeon and even two American eel.   Sampling efforts continued in April and May 2011 and resulted in 11 pallid sturgeon being captured at the base of the L&D#1.  Interestingly, only three of the pallids had hatchery markings.  Genetic results are pending to determine if the other pallid sturgeon are wild.  We also captured 389 shovelnose, of which 15 were recaptured from other studies, as well as 16 lake sturgeon.  This year we also partnered with USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center.  Using a DIDSON camera, crews were able to record video of fish aggregations around the base of L&D#1 and areas immediately downstream of the structure.  Read more about telemetry and DIDSON work on the Osage River at their blog:  http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/     

Based upon two years of sampling at L&D#1, I think that we can definitively say that pallid sturgeon are utilizing the lower Osage River.  Is the dam a barrier…..perhaps?  It is likely that at least seasonally, or more frequently at certain flows, the dam is a barrier not only to fish but to all aquatic organisms.  More sampling will be necessary above the dam and below the dam to fully understand the role that L&D#1 plays in fish passage on the lower Osage River.  Because the dam is relatively unstable, attention needs to be focused on this portion of the Osage River sooner rather than later.  Ultimately, a project to remove or stabilize this decaying lock and dam will be necessary.  A population of federally endangered pink mucket mussels has been identified immediately upstream of the old L&D and a failure of the dam could destroy the fragile mussel bed where they reside.  During this time of unprecedented natural disasters in the Midwest (flooding and tornados), it doesn’t take much imagination to realize the impact a dam failure would have on the local communities, infrastructure and economy.  Our work on this river is laying the foundation for new research and ongoing monitoring to understand the influences of tributaries to the Missouri River, impacts of barriers to aquatic organisms and the life history of the endangered pallid sturgeon.    


Contact Info: Patricia Herman, 573-234-2132 x170, Patricia_Herman@fws.gov



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