War Eagle dam razed to aid fish passage

Dam removal begins in early November on War Eagle Creek near Huntsville.
(Courtesy photo/Arkansas Game and Fish)
Dam removal begins in early November on War Eagle Creek near Huntsville. (Courtesy photo/Arkansas Game and Fish)

A crew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used a hydraulic hammer Nov. 1 to cut a notch in the middle of a concrete dam on War Eagle Creek about 1.5 miles east of downtown Huntsville. As chunks of concrete crumbled, water began to gush downstream.

The crew, part of the Fish and Wildlife fish passage program, eventually removed all 160 feet of the dam by Nov. 6. The low head dam was roughly 12 feet high. The other piece of heavy equipment on hand was a backhoe that was used to remove the concrete debris.

Demolishing the dam is part of a greater effort that will reduce sediment in the water, help stabilize banks and improve fish passage. Sean Saunders, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's north Arkansas stream habitat coordinator, is working with as many as 18 public and private partners to complete the project, which likely will last another six months.

"The collaboration of partners and landowners will remove four aquatic organism passage barriers to reconnect 434 miles of stream on the War Eagle, restore about 5,500 linear feet of stream banks, create four acres of wetlands, install in-stream habitat structures, establish public access points and reduce flood and safety hazards for residents, visitors and counties," Saunders said.

"The project will improve and protect habitat for 27 at-risk species and supplement populations of species of greatest conservation need as well as threatened and endangered species."

War Eagle Creek flows into Beaver Lake, the water source for 550,000 people in Northwest Arkansas and beyond. The project will improve water quality by reducing sediment before the creek reaches the lake.

Kendall Moles, Game and Fish malacologist, led the effort to remove mussels, including the federally protected rabbitsfoot and western fanshell mussels, living on the creekbed above and below the dam before demolition began.

A concrete structure installed years ago about half a mile upstream to redirect overflow from the creek also is marked for removal. Material from both demolition sites will be used in construction of other phases of the project.