Dan Sherry: Proposed dam would cause environmental havoc
Jul. 11, 2014 |
Written by Dan Sherry
Visiting my hometown Muncie last spring, I was shocked to see the April 1 Star Press article about the proposed dam on the White River in Anderson to create a Mounds Lake Reservoir.
I spent 38 years representing fish and wildlife interests in Tennessee negotiating development projects affecting those interests. Although impoundments of free-flowing streams were once commonplace, their numerous environmental impacts have made them a thing of the past in recent decades — especially on larger streams. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now conducts an active nationwide program to dismantle existing dams.
The Star Press article did a good job of describing the impacts the proposed dam would have on uncommon/rare species and their habitats. Having grown up in Muncie when the river was so polluted, it’s been heartwarming to see it cleaned up in recent decades.
A dam would do a lot to undo that. The warmer water within the impoundment would lead to lower water quality and inferior, pollution-tolerant aquatic life. Miles of the tailwater would be subject to water quality problems, and the reduced/inferior aquatic life that goes with them.
Below the dam, the natural flooding cycle that functions to purge/filter pollutants and nourish farmlands would be interrupted. The sensitive wetlands that depend on flood flows and harbor the most productive wildlife habitats would be significantly degraded. The dam would also block the passage of fish and aquatic life, replacing the high quality coolwater fishery (smallmouth bass, rock bass, et al) with a lesser quality warmwater fishery.
This kind of project typically benefits a few politically connected developers at the expense of broader public interests. Private homes would occupy a shoreline developed with tree-cleared manicured lawns, docks and retaining walls. This shoreline development would further degrade the lake’s fish and wildlife resources, despoil aesthetics, and create a de facto privatization of the lake in the eyes of the public — to whom these waters originally belonged and who may have paid for the project and its maintenance in the first place.
Finally, this project is basically impossible to permit. The proposed impoundment would constitute a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act and the Federal Water Quality Standards for Antidegradation. To the extent state and local environmental agency staff are politically allowed to speak out, I’m confident their views would mirror those of the feds.
Even if the project proponents could gain a platform with which to proceed, the compensatory mitigation requirements would be insurmountable and are surely not reflected in the $350 million price tag.
For starters, all impacts to streams (including tributaries and degraded tailwaters) would have to be mitigated. All wetlands within the impoundment, as well as those lost to normal flooding below the impoundment would also have to be mitigated.
For perspective, wetland mitigation costs roughly $40,000 an acre in Tennessee. Stream mitigation costs for even small intermittent streams in Tennessee is currently $240/credit — even more in some states. This means for example, an applicant would have to pay a mitigation entity $240 for each foot of just a tiny stream proposed for elimination in Tennessee. I don’t know the guidelines for Indiana, but can only imagine the mitigation price tag for the loss of seven miles of the White River, all of its affected tributaries, and degradation of miles of White River tailwaters.
Even if funds were available, there would be no potential sites for restoring that much of a major river elsewhere in Indiana. Then there is all of the impossible mitigation for rare species/habitats.
It’s not going to happen.
Dan Sherry was a fish and wildlife environmentalist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency from 1968-2008. He represented the agency negotiating all environmental/regulatory matters in Tennessee as those matters affected fish and wildlife interests. He has a bachelors and masters degrees in biology from Ball State University.