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River group gets $1.2M grant to remove dams in Ohio, Susquehanna watersheds, improve fish habitat

A low rock and concrete dam stretches across a small river.
Courtesy American Rivers
The Upper Reighard dam blocks the movement of fish along the Franklin Branch of the Juniata River in Bedford, Pa.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funding removal of 10 dams in Pennsylvania with money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The non-profit American Rivers will use the funds to take down small, obsolete dams in the Ohio and Susquehanna rivers watersheds.

They are kind of all over western Pennsylvania,” said Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, director of river restoration for the group.

One is a former water supply dam in the borough of Hollidaysburg in Blair County, which is considered hazardous.

Two dams on tributaries to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River are in watersheds where abandoned mine drainage had impacted the streams.

“Since other parties have invested strongly in remediation of that abandoned mine drainage, now we have thriving trout populations,” she said. “And removing these two barriers will allow access to the headwaters for the trout to reproduce.”

Hollingsworth-Segedy knows that in some spots, people who like to fish are disappointed when dams are removed, “We hear that a lot,” she said. But fish, like brook trout and minnows, often can’t swim past dams.

“You can catch fish down below the dam because they’re stuck there, and they can’t go any farther. I mean, why wouldn’t you fish if you knew a place where there was a lot of fish?” she asked. “But on the other hand, those fish are waiting to go upstream and reproduce, and they won’t be able to do that as long as that structure is in place.”

Hollingsworth-Segedy expects that removing dams, like one that blocks a side channel of the Allegheny River near the Allegheny National Forest, will help not only fish but also the freshwater mussels that rely on them.

“The entire length of the side channel over a mile long is perfect nursery water habitat for those small darters and shiners and minnows that the endangered freshwater mussels favor,” she said.

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In some spots, the dam removals are expected to help community development projects. Hollingsworth-Segedy expects trout fishing to improve along a branch of the Juniata River in Bedford Borough when two dams are removed there.

“The Juniata is becoming really well known as a trout fishing destination,” she said.

Removing those dams will also narrow the river, making land available for a park with ballfields and other recreational opportunities. “The city of Bedford is really interested in reinvigorating their waterfront on the river. And this will give them a chance to do that,” she said.

Work on some of these dams will start as soon as this summer.

Ohio River Watershed

  • Allegheny River Side Channel near Tionesta, Forest County
  • Atzinger Dam in Jacobs Creek, a tributary of the Youghiogheny River, Westmoreland County
  • Powers Run dam on Powers Run, a tributary of the Clarion River, Elk County

Susquehanna River Watershed

  • Brandtsville dam on Yellow Breeches Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, Cumberland County
  • Brush Mountain dam, on Brush Creek, a tributary of the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, Blair County
  • Claycomb Dam on Potter Creek, a tributary of Yellow Creek,  Bedford County
  • Drury Dam, Drury Run, a tributary of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Clinton County
  • Reighard upper and lower dams on the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, Bedford Borough, Bedford County
  • Towner Run dam, on Towner Run, a tributary of the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek, Cameron County

Read more from our partners, The Allegheny Front.

Julie Grant is senior reporter with The Allegheny Front, covering food and agriculture, pollution, and energy development in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Throughout her career, she has traveled as far as Egypt and India for stories, trawled for mussels in the Allegheny River, and got sick in a small aircraft while viewing a gas well pad explosion in rural Ohio. Julie graduated from Miami University of Ohio and studied land ethics at Kent State University. She can be reached at