EBCI recognized for dam removal efforts
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has received the 2023 River Champion Award from American Rivers for its leadership in pursuing removal of the Ela Dam on the Oconaluftee River.
In use since 1925, the dam is small, old and produces very little energy. Discussions about removing it began last year when Northbrook Power Management inadvertently released a massive amount of sediment that blanketed the downstream river, severely impacting aquatic communities living there. Afterward, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joey Owle approached Northbrook Carolina Hydro II about removing the dam. Northbrook proved willing to explore that option, and a coalition formed to support the effort. Mainspring Conservation Trust will be the ultimate owner of the property.
“Removal of Ela Dam will be a giant step towards restoring this once vital and thriving fishery of the Cherokee,” reads American Rivers’ announcement of the award. “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ advocacy underscores the importance of greater engagement and leadership by Tribal Nations in river conservation efforts across the country.”
Removing the dam will reconnect the downstream portion of the river with the upstream portion, which includes the entire Qualla Boundary and parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is expected to improve conditions for migratory fish such as sickelfin redhorse, which have been blocked from their journey to historic spawning streams since the dam was built.