Prove your humanity

This story is part of our series, Wild Pennsylvania. Check out all of our stories here

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funding removal of 10 dams in Pennsylvania with money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The non-profit American Rivers will use the funds to take down small, obsolete dams in the Ohio and Susquehanna rivers watersheds.  

They are kind of all over western Pennsylvania,” said Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, director of river restoration for the group.

One is a former water supply dam in the borough of Hollidaysburg in Blair County, which is considered hazardous. 

Two dams on tributaries to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River are in watersheds where abandoned mine drainage had impacted the streams. 

“Since other parties have invested strongly in remediation of that abandoned mine drainage, now we have thriving trout populations,” she said. “And removing these two barriers will allow access to the headwaters for the trout to reproduce.”

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Hollingsworth-Segedy knows that in some spots, people who like to fish are disappointed when dams are removed, “We hear that a lot,” she said. But fish, like brook trout and minnows, often can’t swim past dams.

“You can catch fish down below the dam because they’re stuck there, and they can’t go any farther. I mean, why wouldn’t you fish if you knew a place where there was a lot of fish?” she asked. “But on the other hand, those fish are waiting to go upstream and reproduce, and they won’t be able to do that as long as that structure is in place.”

Hollingsworth-Segedy expects that removing dams, like one that blocks a side channel of the Allegheny River near the Allegheny National Forest, will help not only fish but also the freshwater mussels that rely on them.

“The entire length of the side channel over a mile long is perfect nursery water habitat for those small darters and shiners and minnows that the endangered freshwater mussels favor,she said.

In some spots, the dam removals are expected to help community development projects. Hollingsworth-Segedy expects trout fishing to improve along a branch of the Juniata River in Bedford Borough when two dams are removed there. 

“The Juniata is becoming really well known as a trout fishing destination,” she said. 

Removing those dams will also narrow the river, making land available for a park with ballfields and other recreational opportunities. “The city of Bedford is really interested in reinvigorating their waterfront on the river. And this will give them a chance to do that,” she said.

Work on some of these dams will start as soon as this summer.

A map of Pennsylvania with the locations of the dam removals marked with a red star