Conservation Groups Celebrate Dam Removal on Green River – Restoring Health of Fish and Humans After 70 Years

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Five environmental partners celebrated the largest dam removal in Kentucky’s history last week, which will not only restore biodiversity and improve ecosystems but also prevent deadly accidents in the future.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and Kentucky Waterways Alliance to push for the removal of lock and dam No. 5 from the Green River near Roundhill.

The Green River is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country. It is home to more than 150 fish species, more than 70 mussel species and 43 endemic species that exist nowhere else in the world. Aquatic species include nine endangered mussel species, one endangered fish, and one endangered freshwater shrimp—the Kentucky cave shrimp.

Officials at a ceremony September 20 extolled the benefits of the dam removal that will make the river safer for people, healthier for fish and mussels, and an economic boon to local communities.

“We are excited to partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy on the removal of Green River Lock and Dam 5,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Eric Crispino during the ceremony. “This project will restore the natural flow to this portion of the Green River, the most environmentally diverse river in the inland navigation system, as well as support our ecosystem restoration mission.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to lead the $4.6 million project where crews have been deconstructing the structures on site since June 2021. Work is expected to be completed in October, and The Nature Conservancy will take ownership of the site.

“Removing Lock and Dam number five on the Green River is a really big deal,” said David Phemister, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky. “This is not just an ecological victory, but this is really a victory for river access and the local economies. We’re committed to working with the local community, Butler County and others to make sure this is a public park accessible to all.”

Green River Lock and Dam No. 5 was built in 1933-34 for commercial use, but the Army Corps ceased operation of the structure in 1951 due to it no longer being needed. The structure has stood unused for 70 years, creating a pooled condition in the river with lower oxygen levels, more sediment and higher temperatures—all issues for aquatic life and the overall health of the river. The dam also presents a barrier to boat traffic and recreation, with no portage or bypass options.

Once the dam is removed, it will restore free-flowing conditions to 73 miles of the Green River.

There are many Green River species that thrive in moving water. These include many aquatic insects that serve as food for foraging bats, including three bat species that are endangered.

It will also improve safety and access for recreational canoeists and kayakers and overall fishery including highly sought-after gamefish such as smallmouth bass, rock bass, and muskellunge.

“This project illustrates the concepts of partnerships and revolutionizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, two priorities of the Chief of Engineers,” Crispino said. “The Louisville District is proud to be part of the partnership and we look forward to seeing the Green River free flowing again soon.”