Sunday, November 1, 2015

White Rock Dam removal on the Pawcatuck - November 1, 2015

Heading downstream
The restoration of the Pawcatuck River took another step forward this fall with the removal of the White Rock Dam in Westerly.  For nearly 250 years, this dam at the lower end of the Pawcatuck River has blocked upstream passage to Rhode Island’s largest watershed. The dam has now been removed in an on-going effort to return the Pawcatuck to something close to its natural state.

The original dam at the White Rock site was built in 1770.  It was replaced in 1888 by a stone crib dam, and much of the river’s flow was redirected down a granite-lined raceway to the White Rock Mill. When the old stone crib dam washed away in the 1938 hurricane, it was replaced with a 6-foot tall concrete dam that stretched 108 feet across the river.

Checking out the old raceway
With the recent removal of this concrete dam complete, I joined a small group of paddlers who wanted to check out the new course of the river.  For the third week in row I would be paddling tandem - this time with Bill in the Mohawk.  We put in at the new access off Post Office Lane below the Potter Hill Dam, and took out on White Rock Road just upstream of the Route 78 bridge.  The river was 4.5 feet, 200 cfs. on the Westerly gage - just enough water to keep us floating.

We paddled down to White Rock and found all that remained of the old dam were the stone abutments on river left. The restored riverbed is nice, but not as exciting as a run through the old raceway.  The old raceway was high and dry, but is not being removed.  A barrier will be built at the top that will allow water to flow into the channel during high water.

The old raceway is high and dry
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