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Reviving Connecticut Rivers

Removing two Aspetuck River dams required two jackhammers, 12 people, lots of muscle and nearly a week.

The Connecticut River watershed has a dubious distinction: it’s the most dammed watershed in North America.

While dams have obvious benefits for people – such as flood control, a guaranteed water supply and the generation of hydroelectricity – they can disrupt fish migrations, degrade water quality and diminish a river’s natural services. The degree to which a river is connected can be a crucial factor in maintaining and securing fish populations that may require access to upstream habitats for spawning.

So who wins – people or fish? With your support, The Nature Conservancy worked hard in 2011 to ensure that the answer was “both.”

Two Fewer Dams on the Aspetuck

Together with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Conservancy removed two obsolete dams from the Aspetuck River – part of the Saugatuck River watershed – last August. Two jackhammers, 12 people and nearly a week were required for the project, but the benefits are expected to far outweigh the effort.

Because the Westport work was done at relatively low cost and with full support of the private property owner, it highlights the potential for efficient dam removal in a state with more than 4,000 dams, most of which are privately owned.

It was also a good way to get a workout. “I have video of it,” the Conservancy’s project leader Sally Harold says with a laugh. “I think you can see our muscles getting bigger every day.”

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance for the Connecticut

But what to do about dams that cannot practically be removed? That question is one of the greatest conservation puzzles in New England, but it is one we are a big step closer to solving, thanks to you.

Working with the Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy has developed a computer model for the Connecticut River watershed that will help dam managers release and store water in ways that help nature while providing people with flood control and electricity.

Connecticut River Program Director Kim Lutz says there are many applications for the model, including informing new operating rules for five hydropower dams by 2013, which in turn would improve a stretch of river more than 140 miles long.

“These large dams are operated mainly with only one specific benefit in mind: electricity,” explains Lutz. “We think they also could be operated for the benefit of fish, floodplains and mussels. Healthy rivers are good for everything—and everyone—that uses them.”

With your support, our work on Connecticut’s rivers can make them even more productive – for both people and aquatic life – in 2012.

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