Rivers are the lifeblood of New England. They powered our Industrial Revolution, have given shape to our communities and feed our priceless commercial fisheries.
But for every hundred miles of stream that flow through New England, an average of seven dams and 106 roads interrupt the progress of the millions of migratory fish that once used our rivers as superhighways.
Since these dams were built (some more than 200 years ago), salmon, eel, sturgeon and river herring have all suffered population declines so precipitous that they’ve been listed or proposed for federal endangered species protection.
The Nature Conservancy works to reconnect rivers so that migrating species have access to upstream spawning and rearing habitat. The benefits of this approach go far beyond select species, though, as restored populations can bring a renewed natural abundance throughout our river and marine systems.
Across New England, we partner with business, government, local communities and others to remove outdated dams and create fish passage under roads and at dams that are still providing necessary services. Our goal: restore nature — and people’s connection to rivers — while supporting regional energy and economic needs.
On a clear day in early June, Penobscot Indian Nation elder Butch Phillips watched the sun glinting off the Penobscot River and spoke of hope. As the Penobscot rebounds, it will again “sing the ancient songs as it dances over the falls” and … “the fish will respond again to the age-old calling to their ancestral spawning grounds,” he said.
Phillips led a celebration to mark the start of the Great Works Dam removal. By fall, a key stretch of the Penobscot ran free for the first time in nearly two centuries. Next summer, work is expected to begin on removing the Veazie Dam, nine miles downstream. Then, a new nature-like fish bypass will be installed at the Howland Dam, farther north. Together, these and many smaller projects will restore habitat for migratory sea run fish such as salmon, alewife and sturgeon.
As fish passage is improved at four remaining dams and energy increased at others, these ecological benefits will be realized while maintaining or even increasing energy production.
Among other dam-removal projects in New England:
StanChem Dam, Berlin, CT — After more than 10 years of planning and negotiations, a fish ladder is scheduled to be installed this fall that will open 50 miles of the Mattabesset River and its tributaries to migrating fish.
Rutan Dam, Stonington, CT — The Anguilla Brook is flowing free for the first time in nearly a century, following an August dam removal that benefits both native brook trout and the river’s namesake eels. Stone from the dam is being recycled to create a pool-and-weir fishway downstream that will open additional river miles.
Pushaw Pond, Hudson, ME — The new fishway installed this fall at the entrance to Pushaw Pond, just 11 miles from the Penobscot River, will restore access for alewives. In time, the Pushaw run is expected to grow from zero to more than 1.3 million returning adult fish.
Veazie Dam, Veazie, ME — Just downriver from Great Works, this dam removal, slated to begin in summer 2013, will advance the Penobscot River Restoration Project.
Whittenton Pond Dam, Taunton, MA — By spring 2013, we’ll start removing the Mill River dam that infamously failed during storms in 2005, prompting the evacuation of a nearby neighborhood and drawing national attention to the risks of aging dams.
Hopewell Mills Dam, Taunton, MA — Removal of this dam in August will help restore river herring passage to the Mill River, a tributary of one of the longest undammed rivers in the region, the Taunton.November 28, 2012