CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Roughly a year after the dams of the West Fork River were removed, Clarksburg Water Board officials are beginning to see the benefits.
“For the fiscal year which ended June 30, we’ve already seen a $50,000 to $60,000 reduction in chemicals,” General Manager Richard Welch said.
Highland, West Milford and Two Lick dams were removed from the West Fork River, with the latter being the last removed in October. Hartland Dam, which sits closest to the Clarksburg Water Board remains, as it serves as Clarksburg’s intake.
With U.S. Fish and Wildlife creating passage ways for fish and boats near the former dam locations, Clarksburg Water Board sees a bright future for the West Fork River.
“We believe that with the dam removals and the boat and fish passage, this will become a destination for tourists and some fun events could go on here,” Board Member Al Cox said.
Welch added that John Schmidt, project leader for the agency’s West Virginia Field Office, estimates the project to have a $193 million economic impact on Harrison County and North Central West Virginia.
As the project continues to move forward, the Clarksburg Water Board has received attention from American Rivers, a Washington, D.C. based organization that works to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean drinking water.
“Their interest is in restoring the river to its natural habitat,” Welch said. “One of their main goals in the United States is to remove these run-of-river dams because a dam blocks your rivers, a dam slows the river down, a dam alters habitat in a river and dams impact water quality.”
Those were only some of the issues that deemed the dam removal project necessary last spring. Other concerns were the result of more tragic events.
Prior to Cox joining the Clarksburg Water Board in 2001, three people were killed at the Highland Dam that resulted in a lawsuit for the board.
“There’d been deaths at that dam prior years,” he said. “Since that time, we had a person killed at the Two Lick Dam, so it became obvious that we had to address it.”
Despite safety concerns, public opinion leading up to the dams’ removal was less than favorable. Cox said many had the misconception that the three dams along the West Fork River were used for flood control.
“These dams have nothing to do with flood control at all. They can’t even be used for that purpose,” he said. “They were used to supply a backup storage for water in case of a drought.”
Welch believes public opinion has since turned around.
“Actually we’ve received a lot of favorable comments now that it’s over,” he said. “You can understand that people didn’t know what to expect, and I think they’re pleased with the process.”