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Earlham researchers expect little contamination from the removal of Weir Dam

RICHMOND, Ind. – Earlham College researchers were surprised by their sediment analysis behind the Weir Dam.

Their study found that removing the dam will not result in significant contamination of the Whitewater River, according to a press release. The City of Richmond plans to remove the dam for safety reasons and improve recreational opportunities for citizens. It received grants from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the dam.

“The sediment that has built up behind the dam is a testament to the industrial history of Whitewater Gorge,” said Andy Moore, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Earlham. “Although we cannot guarantee that there will be no contamination, the measured concentrations were much lower than any of us expected.”

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Earlham’s team worked with the city’s Sanitation District on the pre-removal study, which used high-tech satellite navigation equipment to map the river channel. The team also collected core samples of sediment that had accumulated behind the dam. The samples contained traces of metals and hydrocarbons, but no pesticides or PCBs.

The centuries-old dam was built to divert cooling water to a city-owned natural gas facility that no longer exists, the press release said. The removal is planned for summer 2022.

Weir Dam is a 10 foot tall, low dam that spans the Whitewater River.

Moore and Shannon Hayes, an Indiana-licensed professional geologist and geology curator based in Earlham, began the study last summer with students Garris Radloff, Amelia Richardson, and Katherine Liu as part of the college’s summer collaborative research program. The work was funded by an anonymous donor, Earlham College Stephen and Sylvia Tregidga Burges Endowed Research Fund and the Borman Family Foundation.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Earlham students to experience real-world problems while doing the city a valuable service,” said Hayes.

“Our goals were to assess the contamination behind the dam and provide baseline data to assess changes in the river after the dam was breached. Our research will continue after the dam is removed while we track sediment migration and monitor river recovery. “

Liu, a junior from Madison, Wisconsin who studies geology, said she will now view this type of work as a career.

“Andy and Shannon have a lot of hands-on experience with every single aspect of our work,” said Liu.

“The dam is now over 100 years old. I really hope to see the dam removed before graduation. “

Weir Dam is a 10 foot tall, low dam that spans the Whitewater River.

Richardson had previously used Earlham’s surveying equipment to produce high-resolution topographic maps of Miller Farm, Earlham’s experimental farming program.

“Using these tools in a real-world research setting – we’re profiling the river bed – has been really valuable,” said the senior geology major of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The research team expects to present its results at the Geological Society of America conference in Cincinnati in April.

“My academic interest is in water quality, so I’d like to share our results at a conference,” said Radloff, a chemistry and geology double major from the Peoria, Illinois area.

“Most of the work I would like to apply for in the future is related to hydrology. This is great for my résumé and the opportunity to achieve this goal. “

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