Does the DNR have a pro-dam bias?

Last week, inquiry was made to Indiana Department of Natural Resources about the low-head dam on the Big Blue river which caused two swimming deaths on June 6th.   Since the media reports had not apparently identified the ownership and current use of the dam, I sought out the DNR Law Enforcement Division which was heavily involved in the recovery phase of the incident. I spoke with conservation officer Lt. Tim Beaver who is in charge of the investigation.  

When I asked about ownership and use, and suggested that if the dam was no longer used for its constructed purpose, then it should be removed, he immediately responded with two reasons why that would not be feasible or desirable.  He offered that removal would cost “millions and millions” of dollars, and that removal would have negative consequences for upstream properties.  I asked about the impacts, but he was non-specific about exactly what those impacts would be.  I had the distinct feeling he was blowing smoke.

Later, I emailed the town manager of Edinburg which actually owns the dam, according to Lt. Beaver.  I asked for removal cost data and any existing evaluation reports about removal.  I’ve not yet received a reply.   

I’ve also requested a copy of DNR’s incident report which Lt. Beaver is authorized to approve for release by the main DNR office in Indianapolis.  He has not yet approved the public release of the investigative report. 

From Lt. Beaver’s statements discouraging the notion of dam removal, it will be interesting to see if and how his report addresses ownership and the extinguished use and the relative desirability of dam removal.  Low-head dams are notoriously hazardous because they can easily trap people and wildlife in the revolving water machine just below the dam.

It’s hasty to broadly assume that DNR (or at least DNR Law Enforcement) is “pro-dam”.  But that’s the distinct impression created by Lt. Weaver’s statements. If the DNR is concerned about the safety of people and wildlife, it should be addressing and problem-solving this issue, and not trying to discourage consideration of the removal option.

Dams are being removed in increasing numbers all across the country.  Anyone interested in this issue should plan to attend a screening of the newly-released video DamNation.  It will be screened on July 10th at 7:00 p.m. (6:00 social hour) at the Oakwood Retreat Center at Rainbow Farm in Selma, IN near Muncie. 

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