By: John Craddock & Phillip Tevis—
Muncie, IN—Over the past 150 years, our community has used the White River to power mills, create electric power, provide our drinking water and, at times, to act as an open sewer for human and industrial waste. As a result of the Clean Water Act in 1972, industrial pre-treatment, and sewer separation efforts, the White River is now one of the nation’s most pristine rivers in terms of ecological health. Especially in the past 25 years, the river has seen a tremendous increase in fish species and recreation.
Today, Muncie sees the White River as a centerpiece for recreation, be it fishing, biking, walking or jogging. Paddle sports are the fastest growing outdoor recreation segment since the great recession, but have not fully evolved in Muncie due to the presence of five dams along the 7-mile stretch of the White River which flows through Muncie. These five dams prevent safe passage of canoes and kayaks. The dams are too dangerous to portage at low river flows and too dangerous to paddle over in high river flows.
In total, there are twelve low head dams on the White River from the headwaters near Winchester in Randolph County to the confluence of the White River and the Wabash River at Mt Carmel. Muncie dam alterations are significant to the entire White River.
Through a collaboration with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, Muncie Bureau of Water Quality, and the Community Enhancement Project, Inc.—and in cooperation with the Muncie Sanitary District and the City of Muncie—funds have been secured to remove or modify three of Muncie’s five dams.
“We typically do not find communities like Muncie in the Ohio River Basin,” said Donovan Henry of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Program. “When our office learned that Muncie has over fifty years of fish sampling on the White River in town, we realized that we can learn so much about fish function and sediment displacement before and after dam removal using the solid science that the Muncie Bureau of Water Quality and the Soil and Water Conservation District has and will continue to collect. The USFWS found Muncie as a perfect fit for the fish habitat and fish passage funding programs.”
Preparation for this work—including public meetings—has been ongoing for nearly 20 years with momentum greatly increasing in the past two years.
“Removal of the dams is about much more than fishing and recreation,” explained Rick Conrad, Director of the Muncie Bureau of Water Quality. “Dam removal is expected to lead to many water quality benefits, especially in the reaches formerly upstream of the dams. The increased movement of the water helps increase dissolved oxygen levels and lower peak water temperatures. It may also reduce the presence of nuisance algae, and increase the presence of aquatic insects and non-game fish like darters, minnows, and the American eel. In total, these changes lead to a stronger, more resilient stream.
One group expected to benefit greatly from the removal of dams is freshwater mussels. Mussels rank as one of the most threatened groups of animals in the United States, and they are particularly affected by the presence of dams. Not only is a dam a physical barrier to their movement, the slow and silty sediment behind the dams is poor habitat for the riverine mussels and many of the fish that serve as hosts for their microscopic larvae.”
The three dams to be removed or altered to encourage paddle sports, increase fish passage and mussel habitat, and impact water quality include: The Indiana Steel and Wire, McCullouch, and Muncie Sanitary District Waste Water Pollution Control Facility dams. The changes to the dams will also reduce the drowning hazard that dams create for people near a dam at higher river flows. This project will not alter the High Street dam or Indiana American Water Company dam located on Burlington Drive downstream of the 12thStreet Bridge.
Doug Nusbaum of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake and River Enhancement Program said, “The Division of Fish and Wildlife started prioritizing dams for removal in 2015 and removed the first one in 2016. Muncie is a perfect fit for dam modification and removal. Muncie is well recognized for its river recovery efforts to clean the water and build trails. Opening the river to natural flow without dams will add new recreational opportunities and increase connectivity for wildlife in Muncie.”
Funding for the Muncie dam modifications is coming from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership, and a grant from the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation.
“Ed Ball, my grandfather, was born on the White River in Muncie on what many used to call “Ball Bluff.” I recall my grandfather telling me about the efforts of John Craddock to clean the river. Without a clean river, Minnetrista, the White River Greenway, the Kitselman Trailhead or the newly planned Riverfront housing district wouldn’t be possible,” said Chuck Ball Executive Director of the Ed and Virginia Ball Foundation. “Our family foundation is so excited to see that a future generation of people will be connecting to a free flowing river in Muncie in ways my grandparents could barely imagine.”
In 1972, Muncie catalogued about 6 species of fish in the White River. The river pollution was so bad that few fish other than carp could survive in the river. Today, there are about 80 species of fish living in the river. Ball State University conducted a creel survey asking anglers what fish they target in the early 1980s. At that time, carp was main fishing target. A few years ago, the same creel survey was repeated. The recent anglers told Ball State students that their main targeted fish was smallmouth bass. Dam removal will only improve this fishery, as the students found that the only locations that people did not fish was immediately upstream of the dams in the back water pools that hold few fish.
The Muncie conversation about the future of Muncie’s dams began with the White River Greenway master plan in 2000 that was initiated by the nonprofit group Community Enhancement Projects. The plan focused on the White River Trail with a commitment to “developing links to parks, cultural resources, and wildlife habitat along the river greenway, increasing the community’s opportunity to experience significant and varied recreational and ecological resources.”
During the public input meetings while developing the White River Greenway corridor plan, a vocal group of people encouraged dam removal to increase paddle sporting and fishing along the river. The plan and implementation was first focused on trail building all the while working toward dam alterations.
Confluence Consulting, Inc., a nationally recognized stream restoration firm from Bozeman, Montana made recommendations in the 2000 White River Greenway plan to modify Muncie dams to increase water craft recreation and to increase the fisheries for bank and wade fishing anglers.
The Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District through its Upper White River Watershed Project that started about 2000 also heard from an energized and passionate constituent of people requesting dam alterations so people could safely paddle the river through town in Muncie. Dam removal became a long-term goal of the Upper White River Watershed plan.
Dam modification has also been identified by Ball State University Department of Landscape Architecture classes and Biology fisheries classes as river habitat restoration priorities for increasing river recreation.
“The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District has been working for many years to help find funding sources to alter the dams for safe paddle sport recreation,” explained Becky Daugherty, Soil Health Coordinator. “The positive spirit of cooperation for so many that believe in our river has resulted in one of the biggest changes that our river has seen in over 100 years by altering the dams so people can more safely use the river.”
The Indiana Steel and Wire dam has already been removed. The day after the dam was removed, a kayaker fishing for small mouth bass paddled through the area where the dam once stood. The angler was excited to find a better fishing habitat in the old dam pool area.
A natural limestone bedrock out cropping was discovered after the dam water lowered immediately below the Kitselman Bridge at the Kitselman Trailhead. “One of the major goals of the Kitselman Trailhead is to connect people to the river at the intersection of the White River and Cardinal Greenways,” explained Angie Pool Cardinal Greenway, Inc. Chief Executive Officer. “To learn that there is a place by the river at the Kitselman Trailhead where people can easily get to the river’s edge at a lost bedrock outcropping for river recreation is a testimony to the long-range planning and vision of so many people working together all designed to erase the eye sore of the abandoned factories on the east side of Muncie for trail users and more.”
FlatLand Resources, LLC of Muncie has been hired to remove the dams. Work started in late August.
“There is nothing more personally rewarding than to drive or walk along the river and see so many people walking, jogging, biking or fishing,” said John Craddock, Director Emeritus Muncie Bureau of Water Quality and President of Community Enhancement Projects, Inc. “The clean water of our White River is our best, most long-term economic development tool. Without the river, Muncie would not exist. All people use the river: regardless of race, income, religion, education, age and mobility. What a change from my early career days when the White River ran green and red colors 24/7. The river was an open sewer. People did not want to be next to the river. It smelled so bad. Now, with the dams removed, I can only imagine that we will see more people paddling, and especially tubing, during the lazy days of summer, along our White River in Muncie.”
About John Craddock
A lifelong public servant and founder of Muncie’s Bureau of Water Quality, John is an internationally known expert in water quality. Locally, he is known for his outstanding work to restore and revive the White River which once served as a channel for sewage and industrial waste and is now one of the nation’s most pristine rivers in terms of biological health.
About Flatland Resources
FlatLand Resources is a local planning and design-build civil engineering firm founded in 2000, and based out of Muncie, Indiana. They pride themselves in serving small scale communities in the North Central Indiana Region. The company seeks to utilize their diversity of expertise in the field of natural systems, civil engineering, and environmental design/planning in the analysis of environmental problems at various scales.
About Confluence Consulting
Confluence Consulting applies a multidisciplinary approach to each environmental planning, design, and restoration project. They integrate the fields of fluvial geomorphology, hydrology, fisheries biology, ecology, botany, and engineering, while using advanced technologies in geographic mapping to bring their clients the best service possible.