Pawcatuck River Dam Projects to Reconnect Waters

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

WESTERLY — Work to remove the White Rock Dam on the Pawcatuck River and build a new 70- to 90-foot-wide river channel below it should begin in July 2015 and be completed by October.

Bids for the work are being sought this month and a contract should be awarded in early January, according to Scott Comings, associate director of the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. His organization is overseeing the project, along with a host of partners.

The plan calls for removal of the 112-foot-wide dam deemed to be in poor condition and the creation of an almost 1,300-foot-long channel below it to reconnect the river. The waterway now flows down a granite-walled canal on the Rhode Island side of the river that once fed a nearby mill. The upstream mouth of that canal will be blocked and the canal will remain a dry river bed most of the year. Its granite walls, considered a historic fixture, will remain intact.

It will be designed so that a berm in front of the canal could be crested during flood conditions to allow more water downstream, to reduce the chance of upstream flooding. The height of that berm is still in the design phase.

The water level below the dam will remain unchanged, according to Fuss & O’Neill Engineering firm associate Nils Wiberg, but upstream levels will drop.

Wiberg spoke at a Dec. 2 public hearing. There were about 55 people in attendance who asked a variety of questions about the dam removal’s impact on the river and recreational boating.

The engineer told the group that because the level of the river is so flat in that area, the water levels will drop from 2.5-3 feet at the dam, from 1.5-3 feet upstream at the Boom Bridge Road Bridge and up to a half-foot at Potter Hill Dam, more than a mile upstream.

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