GEORGETOWN, Ohio | From kayakers to environmentalist, the news of the destruction of an obsolete dam on White Oak Creek, below Georgetown, has been good news for many, according to Melody Dragoo of the Brown Soil and Water Conservation District.

A grant was in the process to provide funds to take the dam apart, but the excess rain for the past several weeks, was just too much for it and it broke, Dragoo, watershed coordinator for White Oak Creek, said.

The low-head dam was originally built sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It was rebuilt in the 1970s.  The structure had outlived its usefulness as it was built for the old water plant, but now residents tap into Brown County Water System, she said.

"The dam was dangerous to anyone nearby if it broke, and an eyesore. And all the kayakers and canoeist will be so happy. In the past, they have had to take out there. White Oak is considered one of the only class IV rapids in Ohio when the water is up. So it is very popular," she said

"The dam was holding back more than four feet of water than was natural. Now it is free flowing, for fish passage and the grant money has been saved for some other concerns ... Just checked this week to see if any mussels needed to be relocated that would have been behind the dam. Almost 70 percent of the dam has broken away and the stream is converting to more natural levels with small waterfalls, pools, and fast flowing streams." Dragoo said.

When a body of water is healthy, it supports a better quality of fish and other life, officials said. White Oak Creek is considered to be the home of several species on Ohio's threatened list, which includes the Bigeye Shiner, a native of southern Ohio. Since this fish is often intolerant to pollution, it is also an excellent indicator of the health of a stream, according to officials. In the past, it was only found in limited numbers in White Oak Creek watershed, but more recently the numbers have risen indicating an improvement in water quality, according to BSWCD reports.

Three features of a healthy stream include deep pools, runs for migrating, and riffles that help add oxygen and provide a home to many insects. The dam was interrupting this system and keeping it from working as efficiently, and it held back sediment which is a pollutant when it hits a stream, officials said. The higher the amount of sediment in the stream, then the lower the dissolved oxygen in the water, which most aquatic life needs. Additionally the dissolved soil sifts down in the crevices of the stream where a lot of life is, and smothers everything. When sunlight hits the water it can create large algae blooms as a result of all the fertilizers clinging to the soil. This algae can suck most of the oxygen out of the water, leaving little for other life, especially if there is no tree cover.

Almost 80 percent of the watershed is along agriculture lands.

Dragoo has been working with farmers; for most of her 11 years she has been with the BSWCD to try to stop ground erosion into the creek and improve the overall health of the stream, she said. Over those 11 years, about $3 million in grant funds have been used to improve the water quality and habitat of the White Oak Creek watershed.

"These funds were put back into the local economy and our local producers. And we were the first in Ohio with a formal action plan for the watershed that has opened up access to more grant money," Dragoo said.

"It is always a win-win situation when we work with the farmers," Dragoo said.

"Right now there is a huge dead zone in the gulf that is growing bigger. If we can reduce the pollutants in our streams above, then eventually it trickles down locally, then regionally with a cleaner Ohio River, and so on to the gulf," Dragoo sad.

White Oak Creek watershed covers more than a quarter of Brown County, and reaches far into Highland County. It encompasses 150.61 acres in both counties. There are 49.3 miles of stream in the main channel and it drains into the Ohio River just east of Higgensport, according to BSWCD reports.

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