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Harpeth River Stream Restoration and Lowhead Dam Removal Project Starts Dam Demolition

-Will restore a free flowing river -

July 25, 2012


Sludge colored water trickling down a ledge

Algae choked water pools behind the lowhead dam in the Harpeth River. Photo: Harpeth River Watershed Association.

The removal of a lowhead dam on the mainstem of the Harpeth River in Franklin, Tennessee started this week.  The dam’s removal will make the Harpeth River one of the few rivers in Tennessee that is entirely free flowing.  

The project will remove the dam and restore free flows to the river improving fish habitat as well as bolstering recreational opportunities with the establishment of canoe and kayak access points.  It also will help conservationists restore unstable river banks and demonstrate modern methods for enabling water withdrawals that support the river’s natural flow and ecological value. 

On May 21, 2012, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar identified the Harpeth River Restoration and Lowhead Dam Removal Project as the one project for Tennessee for the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative.  The Rivers Initiative is identifying projects around the country to serve as models of how to conserve and restore key rivers, expand outdoor recreational opportunities and support jobs in local communities.  This project is one of 51 around the country that the Secretary is highlighting nationwide, one in each state and in the District of Columbia.

"The City of Franklin is honored and excited to be part of such an important and high profile project. Not only will the removal of the dam improve the quality of the water and fish habitat, but will also improve public access and enhance recreational opportunities for our residents and visitors. And it’s important to note, the new structure, made of natural materials will continue to allow the City to continue to draw water into our reservoir to serve our water utility customers," said Eric Stuckey, City Adminitrator for Franklin, TN.

Why is This So Cool?
  • This national demonstration project will showcase the modern techniques that may be used to restore a river’s natural ecology and flow, while still allowing for water withdrawals.
  • It will restore fish habitat and allow for free movement of fish along the entire river.
  • It will improve the public access point and safety for paddlers as part of the Harpeth River Blueway.
  • It will stabilize eroding river banks in the section of the river in the vicinity of the low head dam to reduce sediment and pollutant loads and improve water quality.

This project will remove the only barrier on the Harpeth River to reconnect the entire river for fish passage, restore natural fish habitat, stabilize eroding river banks in the 2,000 feet of the river in the vicinity of the lowhead dam located in the river on Lewisburg Pike, and maintain the City of Franklin’s drinking water withdrawal.  This project, based on the Natural Channel Design method, will replace the 6.2 foot high lowhead dam with one low-profile, in-stream, boulder feature to recreate the “riffle/run and pool” natural fish habitat while maintaining the city’s ability to withdrawal for drinking water.  It also will reestablish natural river flows that will increase dissolved oxygen levels that have been measured far below state standards in the area. 

Other aspects of the plan will stabilize the eroding banks and revegetate the streamside zone with native plants.  The project was designed by Beaver Creek Hydrology, a civil engineering firm based both in Franklin and in Kentucky that specializes in river restoration using Natural Channel Design principles.  In addition to improving fish habitat, removing fish barriers, and improving water quality, the project will significantly enhance recreational opportunities on the Harpeth River in the Franklin area for fishing and paddling.  The greatly improved public access is part of the series of public accesses being built as part of the Harpeth River Blueway, a series of accesses every five river miles that was developed by the Harpeth River State Park, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, and Harpeth River Watershed Association.

In a recent study, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) found 53 different species of fish in just one river mile surrounding the low head dam! This river is just one of a very unique system of Southeastern rivers that together hold more biodiversity than anywhere else in the world.  This nationally recognized river restoration project will create a healthier and more diverse river ecosystem that will benefit wildlife, increase tourism, improve water quality, provide drinking water, and improve recreational access to enjoy this natural treasure to Franklin and middle Tennessee.

This project is part of a national trend in removing dams much larger than the lowhead dam, and puts Franklin in the forefront of focusing on improving the Harpeth River as a significant natural and economic asset, which is also a State Scenic River as it flows through Davidson County downstream of Franklin.

A variety of federal, state, local, and non-governmental organizations are contributing a total of $871,000 for this project.  For example, the City of Franklin supports removing the structure as part of modernizing its water withdrawal from the Harpeth for drinking water, as required in its permit from the state.  Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) as a partner is conducting the actual removal of the structure. 

The Harpeth River Watershed Association received $350,000 from collaborative funding programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP), and the National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHAP) for projects to improve fish habitat and remove blockages to fish passage.

Other project partners include the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and, City of Franklin, Harpeth River Watershed Association, Vulcan Materials, Beaver Creek Hydrology, North State Environmental, and Waste Management who is the sponsor of the “Dam Cam” so the project can be viewed remotely at

For more information, visit:
To view the project’s construction progress:  view the “Dam Cam”:


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Last updated: July 9, 2012