Flood forces breach of 105-year-old Clarkdale dam (with video)

The 105-year-old Clarkdale dam on the Verde River breached Friday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

The 105-year-old Clarkdale dam on the Verde River breached Friday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

CLARKDALE -- The collapse of the 105-year-old metal dam in Clarkdale on the Verde River may be an opportunity to get rid of the obstruction and return the river back to its original eco-system.

That was the assessment from Verde River Institute Executive Director and Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig Saturday morning after analyzing his drone photos on the Verde River Facebook page.

The dam was built in 1914.

The Verde River Institute is monitoring the damage from Friday’s dam breach, which is already beginning to “reform the river,” said Von Gausig.

The breach is changing the river’s course and it’s changing the ecosystem, he said.

However, it’s up to the owner of the dam, Freeport-McMoRan, whether to rebuild the 250-foot-wide barrier or tear it down.

Von Gausig said the institute sees this as a “huge opportunity” to take down the dam that many people see as “wounds on rivers.” This particular dam is acting as a natural fish barrier, affects the habitat and ecosystem. Taking down the dam would bring the area back to its natural state, said Von Gausig.

One other big problem is that the dam has created a three-quarter mile wide pond just before the dam that grows thick with invasive aquatic plants, he said. This would be washed out if there was no dam.

The dam also affects kayaking on the Clarkdale’s Verde River permit program, which runs from the TAPCO launching area to the Tuzigoot parking lot. It’s dangerous to have kayakers getting out to avoid the rough metal dam at that location, he said.

Von Gausig said the owner of the dam, Freeport-McMoRan, has water rights associated with the barrier and the company doesn’t want to lose them.

The dam feeds water to nearby Peck’s Lake, said Von Gausig.

Von Gausig said that dams are obstacles in the middle of rivers. That is why the institute, as well as the Town of Clarkdale, have held the position to get rid of the Clarkdale dam, but with the understanding that it’s up to the owner, Freeport-McMoRan.


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ddayson 1 month, 1 week ago

This is such an interesting story. It's sad and exciting at the same time. I always found it strange to have to get out by the dam as I kayak. I wouldn't miss the dam for that reason.

It also sounds like it would be a good thing for the river. But of course, money and water rights rule. I am hopeful all parties involved can come to the wisest conclusion. As the water settles, you can bet avid kayakers will test out the new river.


Doogster 1 month, 1 week ago

So what about the dam that's closer to the Tuzigoot ruins? No mention of that one? Right now it's washed out but soon some guy on a tractor will be building it back up as they always do and disrupting the natural flow.


dougvg 1 month, 1 week ago

It's important to understand that this is a very complex situation, for the river, the Town of Clarkdale, and Freeport-McMoRan. The dam provides Peck's Lake with water from the river, and it provides the "beneficial use" for Freeport's surface water right claim. The Town of Clarkdale and the Verde River Institute are committed to helping Freeport find legal, sustainable strategies that will ultimately allow the dam's removal and minimize harm to any of the stakeholders. Mother Nature has given us an opportunity, and we hope we can turn that opportunity into a healthier Verde River ecosystem and a more economical project for Freeport McMoRan. Meanwhile, the Verde River Institute will design and implement a monitoring plan that will inform all of us about how a river can heal after a major change like this. Read more in the next weeks and months on the VRI Facebook page and our website at .


Verde4Ever 1 month ago

And shouldn't Freeport McMoRan be liable for the flooding they caused by the dam breach down river. I am sure the people and horses down river didn't appreciated the almost instantaneous wall of water. You would think there must be building codes in the town of Clarkdale to force Freeport McMoRan to rebuild something other than a dam built of dirt and corrugated metal. Just saying......