Conservationists are raising concerns about how the Lake Talquin dam is impacting wildlife. The comments come as federal regulators are reviewing the future of the hydroelectric plant there.
There are a number of endangered species in the watershed around the Lake Talquin dam, including the gulf sturgeon, and four rare kinds of mussels. Increasing the amount of water flowing from the dam would benefit wildlife throughout the Ochlockonee River, according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sean Blomquist. He’s also pushing for special passages to ferry species through the dam and upstream.
“One of the major things that could help with recovery of both the fish and the mussel species within the basin is to figure out some way of ensuring connectivity to the waters above the dam and above the lake," Blomquist said. "So that would allow those fish species such as gulf sturgeon, American eel, Alabama shad and gulf striped bass to access those waters."
The actual infrastructure involved in transferring specific species through the dam would depend on the construction of the facility itself and the animals in question.
“There’s all sorts of creative solutions that have been tried for fish passage across the nation, ranging from massive concrete ladder-type structures to smaller facilities," Blomquist said. "The Jackson Bluff dam is a 60 foot earthen dam, so there are certain types of designs that would be more appropriate than others."
The City of Tallahassee is dissolving its lease for the hydroelectric plant on the river, and another utility could take it over. The process of unwinding the agreement is spurring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to review the environmental impact of the facility. Any potential changes to water flows or other conservation measures would depend on who takes over the lease, if anyone.
But whatever happens to the facility, FWS biologist Maureeen Walsh says the agency will continue to push for new ways to protect species in the area.
"Regardless of who is going to be operating the dam or what would happen, the Fish and Wildlife Service would be involved in trying to advocate for some of these positive conservation measures," Walsh said.
The City of Tallahassee's current lease on the hydroelectric plant expires on June 30, 2022.