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A risk assessment study of water quality, biota, and legacy sediment prior to small dam removal in a tributary to the Delaware River

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Abstract

The proposed removal of three run-of-river dams (all ≤5-m height) in eastern Pennsylvania along lower Bushkill Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River, has provided a valuable opportunity for multidisciplinary research involving the collection of more than 5 years of pre-removal monitoring data, analysis of heavy metals in legacy sediment cores, and associated toxicity assays to determine the singular and interactive effects of lead, copper, and cadmium on survival and behavior of a common macroinvertebrate found in Bushkill Creek. Monitoring data were collected from sites approximately 35 m upstream and downstream of dams and reference sites located approximately 5 km upstream of all dams. Results indicate that oxygen levels, macroinvertebrate diversity, and proportion of sensitive taxa were significantly lower upstream and downstream of dams in comparison with upstream reference reaches. The strong correlation between water quality and macroinvertebrates in this system implies that removal of the lower three dams would lead to improvements in water quality, biotic integrity, and resilience in lower Bushkill Creek. Sediment analyses and toxicity assays suggest that dam removal and sediment mobilization may route contaminated sediments downstream at concentrations that may harm more sensitive biota. However, macroinvertebrate mortality and behavior were not significantly different from clean water controls for the large majority of toxicity assays. All together, these results suggest that dams 1–3 are good candidates for successful stream restoration but that the removals would best be planned in a way that mitigates potential impacts of contaminated legacy sediment.

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Acknowledgements

Funding support for this research was provided by the Lafayette College Department of Biology and by a Think Tank Grant from Lafayette College’s Office of the Provost. We thank D. Brandes in Lafayette’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for providing comments on earlier versions of this manuscript and for organizing the Think Tank Grant that led to the initiation of this study in 2010. P. Auerbach provided technical field support, and M. Chejlava and S. Mylon of Lafayette College’s Chemistry Department provided valuable guidance with chemical analyses of sediments and water samples. L. Craig of American Rivers, D. Jackson of Lafayette College’s History Department, and D. Shaw, Lafayette College’s Archivist, provided valuable information on the environmental history of the site and status of the proposed dam removals. W. Barlow, A. Bernstein, R. Cuomo, F. Demirhan, K. Engberg, T. Germanoski, S. Gleich, E. Hernandez, R. Hughes, D. Kimmel, J. Knopping, C. Ladlow, E. Lynch, D. May, B. Ohlinger, J. Onorati, B. Pinke, C. Scheland, K. Schubert, J. Shaw, M. Spitz, M. Thompson, K. Vera, and S. Woodruff all assisted with monitoring, sediment coring, channel surveying, and toxicity test setup and maintenance. We thank two anonymous reviewers for counsel on the manuscript.

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Rothenberger, M.B., Hoyt, V., Germanoski, D. et al. A risk assessment study of water quality, biota, and legacy sediment prior to small dam removal in a tributary to the Delaware River. Environ Monit Assess 189, 344 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-017-6060-x

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