Consultants evaluating effect on river levels

A section of the East Fork White River is being evaluated to determine whether water levels would be affected by the removal of a low-head dam near the Upland Columbus Pump House.

The U.S. Geological Survey plans to measure the depth of the river next week — upstream and downstream of the low-head dam, said Jeff Frey, deputy director of the Indiana-Kentucky Water Science Center with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The process, known as bathymetry, will involve using sonar technology to determine the depth of the river in various places, which then can be shown on a map, Frey said.

The U.S. Geological Survey is among the state and federal agencies known as the Silver Jackets, which the City of Columbus asked to study the river. Christopher B. Burke Engineering and IUPUI are also involved.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission last summer approved up to $53,000 for additional work on the riverfront project, with $48,500 designated for a geomorphic study into the implications of removing the low-head dam and up to $5,000 for the research, application and administration of a grant to remove the dam.

Frey presented details of his agency’s work so far this week to the redevelopment commission, when he said erosion has been discovered on the right bank and attributed that to the angle of the dam.

Frey said once the U.S. Geological Survey performs its bathymetry work, Christopher B. Burke Engineering will use the data to run a hydrological model to assess water level changes with and without the low-head dam.

Once the data is given to Christopher B. Burke Engineering, the firm expects the hydrological model to take four to six weeks, Frey said.

The depth of the water will be evaluated in Haw Creek as it comes into the East Fork White River and the mouth of the Flatrock River, Frey said.

The information will be beneficial in helping the city understand whether removing the low-head dam will cause problems with the movement of sediments downstream and where it will end up, he said. It will also help identify how much and what type of sediment is present.

Frey said sediments such as open sand and gravel, which have been identified so far, don’t pose any issues. But if clay or organics such as pesticides or metals are discovered, that could mean there are compounds with toxic metals in them that would come from anything upstream in the East Fork White River or in the Flat Rock River.

A high amount of sediment in the water could affect fish and other things living in the stream, Frey said.

The property on the west side of the river is a former Superfund landfill site.

The city is pursuing a $200,000 federal matching grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve its riverfront by modifying or removing the century-old, low-head dam. Heather Pope, redevelopment director for the city, previously said if the grant were approved, it would match $200,000 in funding that the city would provide for work on the dam.

The individuals involved in the overall effort will also continue to obtain funding necessary toward additional follow-up work, Frey said. He plans to make another presentation to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission in four to six weeks, he said.