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Bishopville Dam Removal and Renovation Underway - September 14, 2014

     Over the past few decades, there has been a significant shift in the way, scientists, engineers, and other citizens view dams and their usage. While dam building was common place in Europe, Asia and the Americas in the past, more recently, dams have become a major point for debate and arguments, including whether or not they should be left up, rebuilt, destroyed or modified. Here in America, dam removal has become a much more common practice, especially since the mid to late 90’s, for a variety of reasons, both economic and environmental. 

    Removing a dam, especially large dams, is a very heavy time, and money consuming process. Because of all the work that goes into destroying or modifying these dams, not to mention putting them up in the first place, there are usually multiple reasons for the removal of the dams in question. These reasons can vary greatly; from the dam being unsafe and a danger to areas downstream, to animal health and biodiversity, to simply not having the funding to keep it maintained. 

    After years of planning, scheduling, surveys and reports, the Bishopville dam on the Bunting Branch of the St. Martins River is one such dam that is slated for removal. 

    Removal of the Bishopville dam has been a developing project for years, and has involved numerous local, state and federal partners. The major players in the removal of the dam include the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Worcester County, the Department of Natural Resources, Underwood and Associates, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Chesapeake Trust Fund have provided significant funding for the project which was augmented with additional funding by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 

    Currently, the Bishopville dam blocks the Bunting Branch of the St. Martins River, creating a 2.5 acre pond behind the dam. The dam removal plan calls for the dam to be modified and replaced by a stream channel complete with a series of smaller pools, weirs and runs. The dam will not be entirely removed, the concrete foundation will stay in place, however the old rusted metal sheeting will be taken down to enable water and fish passage. The stream will run through the pools and weirs and will eventually transition from an upper non-tidal stream above the old dam, to a tidal stream by the time it exits the final pool on its way down the St. Martin River and eventually out into our coastal bays. In total, the dam removal and stream restoration project will enhance approximately 1,400 feet of the Bunting Branch stream and three acres of surrounding tidal and non-tidal wetlands. 

    The goal of the Bishopville dam removal is to make a more natural looking stream corridor and, in so doing, create a plethora of different benefits as well. One such benefit is to make it a more aesthetically pleasing area and bring back more vegetation and wildlife. The weirs and pools will not only help to stabilize the stream channel but it will also help to enhance aquatic vegetation growth within the stream and promote woody vegetation growth along the stream side and adjacent floodplain. Trees, bushes and other woody vegetation help to anchor and stabilize the soil around them and reduce sediment runoff into the stream. 

    Currently, one of the biggest issues with the Bishopville dam is that it blocks the passage of many anadromous fish upstream. Anadromous fish, such as Blue Back Herring and more famously, Salmon, spawn in tidal rivers and tributaries and then head downriver as they mature to live in more open bays, oceans or seas. By replacing the dam and its pond with a “staircase” made up of more gradual pools, it makes it much easier for anadromous and other types of fish, such as White Perch and juvenile Menhaden, to travel up and downstream. The dam removal project will actually open up approximately 7 miles of previously unavailable upstream habitat for many aquatic animals. 
    
    Another benefit of the dam removal and renovation will be an increase in water quality. Bunting Branch receives a large volume of stormwater and runoff from the surrounding area, however many of the upstream tributaries and creeks have been altered by ditching and channelization which has caused serious water quality issues. Adding the series of weirs and pools will help to slow down the water velocity which will allow for suspended particles and sediment to settle out of the water column. Slowing down the water velocity will also provide better nutrient reduction by allowing more time for denitrifying bacteria to help reduce excess nitrogen in the water. Excess nutrients, along with sediments in the water column both contribute to the degradation of water quality not only in Bunting Branch, but also downstream in the St. Martins River. 
    
    The Bishopville dam removal and renovation project is currently underway, and after years of hard work, research and planning the many partners involved are pleased to finally see it moving forward. 

    “This is the very first dam removal project on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” said Dr. Roman Jesien, Science Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, “And we are excited to be able to provide better fish passage and improvements in water quality to the most degraded water body in the coastal bays watershed with this innovative stream restoration project.”
    
Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.



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