Dam removal put on hold
High water postpones demolition on Kentucky’s Green River

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Roundhill, Kentucky – Work on removing a longtime lock and dam on the Green River has been postponed until spring.

Crews using heavy equipment began demolishing the lock and dam, near Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the summer.

The reason: Rising river levels are potentially hazardous for crews and the heavy machinery that had been dismantling the aged structures since early summer.

Earlier this month, officials agreed to delay work on lock and dam No. 5 until river levels subside. The crews had demolished the lock, and were poised to take out the dam, but the weather didn’t cooperate, said Lee Andrews, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) supervisor who has been coordinating the demolition work.

Andrews, who had been working the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, said rainfall in Kentucky has been regular since he and others gathered at the river’s edge on Sept. 20 to celebrate the structures’ removal.

“We’re getting a little more rain in the watershed today,” Andrews said in a recent conference call.

Statistics from the National Weather Service show summer came to a soggy end here. In September, the area that includes the lock and dam received as much as 8 inches of rain, records from the agency’s Louisville, Kentucky, office show. The typical total is half that.

“We need around 30 days of low-flow conditions to complete the job,” he said, “But we have been getting increasing flows in the river due to precipitation and flows will increase even more in the next few weeks as the Corps of Engineers begins planned releases from the Nolin River and Green River dams upstream.”

The fall releases from these dams are designed to get those reservoirs down to their winter pool elevations for necessary flood control.

Adding to the higher river level: the end of the growing season and a drop in daytime temperatures. Farmers are no longer irrigating their crops, and cooler temperatures mean less water is evaporating. As a result, more water is running to the river.

The project will cost $2.5 million. The money for the dam removal comes from the Service’s National Fish Passage Program. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appropriated funds for the program.

Lock and dam No. 5’s removal is just the latest step in clearing the river of manmade structures impeding the river’s flow. In 2017, the Service and other agencies removed lock and dam No. 6, about 30 miles upstream from the current project. The Service also plans to start next year removing Barren River lock and dam No. 1.

The Green River is not the only waterway returning to its original path.

In the last century, studies show, almost 1,800 dams have been removed from rivers across the country. For more information, see https://www.americanrivers.org/threats-solutions/restoring-damaged-rivers/dam-removal-map/

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Fish passage