This project will remove the Ela Dam on the Oconaluftee River in Whittier, North Carolina. The Ela Dam has starved the downstream river of sediment, caused water loss through evaporation, and limited habitat access of several rare species in the area. Removal of this dam will restore the river and reopen nearly 550 miles that benefit the federally endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel and other rare aquatic species like the eastern hellbender. This project will be a significant benefit for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and imperiled species in the area. Increased habitat and spawning migration will restore the population of sicklefin redhorse, which was once a vital and thriving fishery of the Cherokee.

Project Quick Facts:

Project Status

In Development


NC, Swain County

NFPP Project Funding


Restoration Techniques

Dam Removal


549 Stream Miles Reopened

Partner Project Lead

Mainspring Conservation Trust

The National Fish Passage Program: Leaders in Building Bridges and Fostering Connections

The National Fish Passage Program is a national leader connecting watersheds and people. The program has decades of experience implementing infrastructure projects with partners. Fish passage project proposals can be initiated by any individual, organization, government, or agency. However, proposals must be submitted and completed in cooperation with a Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. (Please note that fish passage fish passage
Fish passage is the ability of fish or other aquatic species to move freely throughout their life to find food, reproduce, and complete their natural migration cycles. Millions of barriers to fish passage across the country are fragmenting habitat and leading to species declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Fish Passage Program is working to reconnect watersheds to benefit both wildlife and people.

Learn more about fish passage
projects being used for federal or state compensatory mitigation or required by existing federal or state regulatory programs are not eligible for funding through the National Fish Passage Program.) 


200 Million Dollar Investment in Rivers, Wildlife, and Communities

Clean free-flowing waterways are vital to wildlife, people, and ecosystems. But across the country, millions of barriers fragment rivers, block fish migration, and put communities at higher risk to flooding. The  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is a once-in-a-generation investment in the nation’s infrastructure and economic competitiveness. We were directly appropriated $455 million over five years in BIL funds for programs related to the President’s America the Beautiful initiative.

Learn more about Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
 , signed in November 2021, included $200 million for restoring fish and wildlife passage by removing in-stream barriers and providing technical assistance under the National Fish Passage Program. 


A person is walks through a large wide culvert that passes under a gravel road. A small river runs through the culvert.
Across the country, millions of barriers are fragmenting rivers, blocking fish migration, and putting communities at higher risk to flooding. Improving fish passage is one of the most effective ways to help conserve vulnerable species while building safer infrastructure for communities and...