Scioto Dredging Reveals Junk, Rare Mussels

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With Main Street Dam demolition, dredging of the Scioto River continues. Lower water levels will create a more environmentally sound river plus add acres of park space along its banks.
With Main Street Dam demolition, dredging of the Scioto River continues. Lower water levels will create a more environmentally sound river plus add acres of park space along its banks.

Dredging of the Scioto River started in downtown Columbus last week. It’s part of the Scioto Greenways project that began with demolition of the Main Street dam. Workers have found a lot of man-made debris as the river level falls; and they’re saving some valuable aquatic species.

Uncovering all kinds of junk in the Scioto was not completely unexpected. The same sorts of debris were found upstream when the 5th Avenue dam was demolished. Amy Taylor is Chief Operating Officer of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation which initiated the project.

“We have found tires, shopping carts; I think our project manager stopped counting at 42. We’ve found chairs, bicycles; and so a whole host of things that you don’t traditionally think of as being in the river,” Taylor says.
The junk is being disposed of. But Taylor says thousands of freshwater mussels are being saved.

“To date we have almost 4,500 live mussels that we’ve rescued,” Taylor says.

Dozens of volunteers have been working with ecologists in the rescue effort.

“There used to be 31 species in the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. Now those numbers are dramatically reduced.”

Cody Fleece, an ecologist for the environmental consulting company Stantec, is working with others to prevent more mussels from being lost.

“Essentially we just walked the banks and looked for evidence that the mussels were either on the surface stranded trying to dig or trying to move, or below the surface. We’d pick them up, put them in buckets and then we moved a lot of them up to the former 5th Avenue Dam location and put them out in the channel there,” Fleece says.

Fleece says mussels are important because they improve a river’s water quality. He says he expects their numbers to increase as the Scioto becomes a more natural, free-flowing river.

“One of the reasons for trying to preserve mussels is because they’re neat and unusual animals and because they’re so imperiled across their range. It’s just important to try to preserve these things because they really are just really wonderful little critters,” Fleece says.

The Scioto Greenways project won’t be complete until the fall of 2015. As the river narrows more than 30 acres of park land will emerge downtown.

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