Removal of Monumental Mills Dam to Benefit Native Fish in Virginia
Culpeper County, Virginia – Work is underway to remove the Monumental Mills Dam located on the Hazel River a quarter mile upstream of the Rt. 640 Bridge in Rixeyville. The dam is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and is surrounded by private property on both sides of the river, with no public access. It was originally built for mill water power as early as 1816. It also provided hydro-electricity from the early 1900’s until 1951. On October 4, 2011, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requesting removal of the dam by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).
Originally constructed with native stone and mortar, and later capped with concrete, the 10-foot high and 140-foot long dam is now in disrepair. The dam currently serves no commercial or environmental purpose and alters the natural form and function of the Hazel River. Removal is expected to be completed in October and will ultimately restore access to 28 continuous miles of the Hazel River and 285 total miles including accessible tributaries. Monumental Mills Dam ranks number six in priority for dam removal in the Chesapeake Bay Fish Passage program.
“Removing the dam will provide migratory fish like shad and herring greater access to their historical spawning grounds and will return this section of the Hazel to a free-flowing river,” said David K. Whitehurst, Director, Bureau of Wildlife Resources, DGIF. Both American shad and river herring populations have drastically declined from their historical numbers due, in part, to overfishing and loss of habitat. Access to spawning and rearing grounds within the watershed is a critical component in the effort to restore these valuable fish species.
The Monumental Mills Dam is just one of more than 84,000 dams in the U.S., many of which require significant repairs or upgrades. As these figures continue to climb—groups like the American Society of Civil Engineers estimate a repair bill of more than $21 billion—there has been a shift toward removing dams that no longer serve their intended purposes or where the dam’s costs outweigh its benefits. As a result, more than 1,300 dams have been removed across the U.S. over the past 100 years. This will be the 17th dam removal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in Virginia since 2004. A good example of successful restoration is the DGIF’s documentation of American shad and blueback herring utilizing over 28 additional miles of the Rappahannock River after Embrey Dam was removed in 2004. Furthermore, hickory shad, alewife, and striped bass have been documented above the Embrey Dam site, and significant American eel population increases in the upper watershed have been directly linked to the removal of this dam. Funding for the removal of Monumental Mills Dam is made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The estimated project cost is $60,000.