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April 13, 2023 Comments Off on Freer flow for War Eagle: Plan aims to remove slab bridge, low dam Featured, Fishing, Hiking, Latest, Nature, On The Water

Freer flow for War Eagle: Plan aims to remove slab bridge, low dam

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

Removing a low-water bridge and a decaying dam from the War Eagle River will improve water quality and allow fish to move more freely up and down the stream, according to the Beaver Watershed Alliance conservation group.

The alliance is heading up the project, which is a team effort with other agencies, said Becky Roark, alliance executive director. Partners include Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy.

The War Eagle and White rivers are the main tributaries of Beaver Lake. The reservoir is the drinking water source for some 550,000 people in Northwest Arkansas and beyond, Roark noted.

Plans are to take out the low-water bridge along gravel Gar Hole Road in extreme northeast Washington County, Roark said. The bridge is basically a concrete slab across the river with vents so water can flow under the bridge.

During high water, the stream flows swiftly over the slab creating a dangerous situation for motorists hoping to cross the stream.

It will be replaced with a high bridge to allow traffic to cross the War Eagle, also called War Eagle Creek, at that spot during high water, Roark said.

A low dam on the stream located 1.5 miles east of downtown Huntsville is also set for demolition, Roark noted. The pool behind the dam was once a water supply for Huntsville. The city has received its drinking water from Beaver Lake for years so the dam is no longer needed.

The dam is 12 feet high and is “falling apart,” Roark said.

Cost is estimated to be $1 million for the Gar Hole portion and $2 million for the Huntsville dam. So far $196,000 has been raised, Roark said. About $500,000 has been committed through in-kind services such as labor, equipment and materials.

The Huntsville dam removal is most expensive because of major bank restoration that will be part of the work, she said.

“This is the biggest project we’ve ever done,” Roark noted. “It’s a collaboration of people who want to help and be a part of this.”

Some type of improvement at the Gar Hole crossing is something the alliance has wanted to tackle for three years, she added.

Plans are to remove the Huntsville dam in August with assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new bridge at the Gar Hole crossing will be built by contractors with help from the Washington County Road Department once funding is secured, Roark said. It will be at least a year, she added, before the bridge project gets started.

When the low-water bridge is removed, there will be a period when traffic won’t be able to cross the War Eagle until the high bridge is finished, Roark said.

Jon Stein, Northwest Arkansas district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish, said the agency hopes to build a river access at the Gar Hole crossing where people can launch canoes and kayaks. Game and Fish is working with an adjacent landowner to establish an access.

The agency also has walk-in access upstream near the Clifty community in Madison County. Stein said he’d like to put in a campsite or two for people to canoe or kayak camp.

Taking out the low-water bridge and dam will benefit the fishery, Stein said. The War Eagle is known for good smallmouth bass fishing.

“When the water is high enough, the current is too strong coming through the Gar Hole bridge to allow fish to get upstream,” Stein said.

Sean Saunders, Northwest Arkansas stream habitat coordinator for Game and Fish, said the project will also benefit mussels in the stream. A mother mussel releases young in the form of larvae. The larvae must attach themselves to the gills of a host fish to develop.

“The more fish, the more benefit to mussels,” he said.

Game and Fish also recognizes the increasing popularity of paddle sports and supports added river access, Saunders said.

Roark noted sediment backs up behind the dam, which contributes to high levels of phosphorous in the stream.

Bank stabilization at both sites involves placing large boulders along the shore to prevent erosion and reduce sediment. Sediment is a major polluter of waterways across the nation, she said.

The War Eagle flows through Madison County, eastern Benton County and a small slice of Washington county. The stream flows into Beaver Lake near the War Eagle community east of Rogers.