Getting mussels (and fish!) moving in the Upper Tennessee River Basin

SPOILER ALERT: We worked with partners to remove a bridge in Scott County, Virginia, and restore the stream to look like this! This photo was taken this past May after project completion. Credit: USFWS
SPOILER ALERT: We worked with partners to remove a bridge in Scott County, Virginia, and restore the stream to look like this! This photo was taken this past May after project completion. Credit: USFWS

SPOILER ALERT: We worked with partners to remove a bridge in Scott County, Virginia, and restore the river to look like this! This photo was taken this past May after project completion. Credit: USFWS

Landowners historically built low-water bridges to access both sides of a river when water levels were low. Many of these bridges were built by  landowners themselves to serve immediate needs.

But…as low-water bridges age, they degrade and fill with debris underneath, creating pond-like situations upstream. These slow flows upstream accumulate too much fine sediment and, when levels rise, eat away at river banks–making problems for fish and for the landowner.

Here is the low-water bridge. Might not look like much, but the bridge has made this place a challenge for fish and a flood danger. Credit: USFWS

Here is the low-water bridge in July 2014. Might not look like much, but the bridge has made this place a challenge for fish and a flood danger. Credit: USFWS

In Scott County, Virginia, this situation arose. The 185-foot-long concrete Hart Ford low-water bridge was over a hundred years old, with dangerous cracks and with much debris blocking water flow. The river banks had retreated over 30 feet into the floodplain, creating a huge mess when rain increased.

This photo shows how eroded the river banks are. Credit: USFWS

This photo shows how eroded the river banks are. Credit: USFWS

Our agency, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable and a local non-profit stepped up to offer the landowner help. The area, which is in the North Fork Holston River watershed, is a conservation priority for us. The watershed is in the Upper Tennessee River Basin and is home to 15 kinds of threatened and endangered freshwater mussels and three threatened types of fish–the slender chub, spotfin chub and yellowfin madtom.

The plan? To remove the Hart Ford low-water bridge and restore the river both in-stream and along the banks. The results would benefit the river wildlife and the landowner.

In April 2015, the bridge was removed! Partners brought in rootwads and large woody debris to grade and stabilize about 500 feet of riverbank, and we also stabilized an additional 150 feet of tributary ditches along the farm access road. We planted nearly two acres of native trees and shrubs, and installed livestock exclusion fencing to protect the restored riverbanks.

All in all, we opened up 6 miles of the river for fish, and specifically restored instream habitat for 1/5 mile!

 

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