An Open Letter to The City of Lynchburg

This is an open letter to the City of Lynchburg. Expressing the need to take down the James River Dams!

First is Safety

Figuring from online topographical maps, there is 270 feet of drop between the top of the Cumshaw Dam in Snowden VA to the bottom of Scotts Mill. Seven dams in all! These dams are old, very old, and a small earthquake (as experienced in Mineral, VA in 2011) could topple one or more of these structures. Once down the force could then destroy others downstream creating a domino effect. The loss of human life could be staggering here in Lynchburg and even downstream to Richmond. This threat should be taken seriously! In addition, these are all “low head” dams. Low head dams are very, very dangerous accounting for 266 deaths nationally from 2000 thru 2016. The water above looks placid, inviting. The water flowing over could be seen as beautiful. But at the bottom of the dam, where the water falls in to the pool below, there is dangerous undertow as some of the water moves back upstream to fill the depression created by the waterfall. When a person or animal enters this area it is nearly impossible for them to get out as the water from above pushes them under and the water downstream is actually moving back upstream toward the dam face—a vicious cycle that is a KILLER!

The second concern is ecological.

Fish downstream of Lynchburg used to be able to spawn as far away as the Jackson, the Maury and the beautiful Cowpasture. Currently, due to efforts of the good folks in Richmond with dam removal and fish ladders, these poor fish get to the base of Scotts Mill Dam, bump their head, and say, "DAMN!" Some would argue that it is just not fair that these dams, originally constructed to create the Kanawha Canal in the early 1800's, have never been removed. Even Virginia's Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries has commented about (and assisted in) the removal of many dams here in our commonwealth. The argument can be made that the whole of the James would run cleaner without dams, and even the Chesapeake Bay would be cleaner with a healthy James flowing in to it. 

The third concern has to do with money on two different levels.

First, these dams are subsidized by the government to keep them "safe" as well as to keep them making "green energy". These are low head dams which produce tiny amounts of energy and, when they are active, only provide electricity to the grid during peak energy hours, so it is not even used locally. Little can be found by the average Joe on the internet regarding subsidies vs. energy produced but it is sure that billions of federal tax dollars were dumped into these types of projects over the past few years. Richmond just passed out another $1.2 million in dam subsides last month. You may be able to find more than we can regarding the price of subsidies vs real value. If you can point us in a direction, I will happily dive in and do the research?

This last point concerns the economy of our beloved Downtown L'burg. .

Let's consider the economic impact of the New and the Gauley Rivers in southern WV—millions upon millions of dollars in tourist revenue. The Whitewater Center in Charlotte NC is a huge draw for both paddlers and outdoorsy kind of people. Bend, OR; Charles City IA; Columbus, GA and Salida, CO have had terrific success with building a water park on the rivers that flow through their downtown areas, some even putting up lights to keep the fun going well in to the night. Starting with a simple 30 foot gap knocked in the Scotts Mill Dam would create a standing wave that would draw paddlers from all around the region and keep the local college students entertained and out of trouble at least three seasons a year. Taking down all seven dams would draw folks from all over the east coast, maybe further, to grand little ol' Lynchburg, Virginia. To explain, 270 feet of drop over an approximate 30 mile stretch would let our old river flow the way he used to pre-1835. The rapids exposed, though long forgotten by the history books, would provide all grades of opportunities for river companies to sell and rent rafts, kayaks, canoes, tubes, and all sorts of river gear and services. Big business right there(!) that might even rival the lively restaurant business! Check out the short story and pics at this link and do all of us a favor by scrolling down to some of the other great stories from other cities..


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