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NC’s Cullowhee Dam’s Future Bleak

leah kirk

Nearly a century old, the aging Cullowhee Dam on the Tuckasegee River is at a crossroads — with the increased risk of failure, Western Carolina University must decide whether to renovate the existing structure or remove it completely.

An in-depth examination of the safety of the Cullowhee Dam begun last years is nearly complete. The dam provides water for both Western Carolina University and the towns served by the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority (TWSA). It was built in 1930.

A preliminary study in 2005 found some erosion problems. “Some eroded areas on both ends of the dam where the dam ties into the soil structure,” Dan Harbaugh, Director of the TWSA, said. “The study is meant to show the potential options, the cost of the potential options, the outcome, the results of that potential option."

Now, with a proposal for more recreation along the river, the university wants a thorough investigation done on the dam. Those options include removing the dam or modifying it with recreation and wildlife in mind. The dam hasn’t been used for power generation since the 1960s, but it creates a reservoir of still water that supplies WCU and the TWSA. However, some would like to see the dam disappear, offering increased opportunity for paddlers and allowing fish and other aquatic life to travel freely through a more natural, higher-quality river.