The restoration of the Penobscot River is an unprecedented and innovative effort to remove two dams and build a state-of-the-art fish bypass around a third. As a result, hundreds of miles of habitat along the Penobscot and its tributaries will be re-opened for sea-run fish, with tremendous benefits to biological and human communities along the river.
The seeds of the project were sown in 1999 when PPL-Maine (formerly Pennsylvania Power and Light) purchased a series of dams in Maine. PPL approached the Penobscot Indian Nation and several conservation organizations in hopes of creating a more cooperative model for the dam relicensing process. Discussions with those groups led to a remarkable announcement four years later calling for removal of the Penobscot's lowermost dams while maintaining hydropower production by increasing power generation at other dams upriver.
A 2004 agreement outlining the dam removal process was signed by the Department of Interior, the State of Maine, PPL-Maine, the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Trout Unlimited. The Nature Conservancy joined as a full partner in 2006.
An Ambitious Two-Phase Project
In the first phase of the project, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust purchased the Veazie, Great Works, and Howland dams in December 2010. Phase two started in June 2012 with the removal of the Great Works Dam, with support from NOAA and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Removal of Veazie Dam was completed in 2013 and Howland Dam will be bypassed by a natural river channel—all at an estimated cost of $25 million.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project resolves longstanding disagreements over how best to restore native sea-run fish and their habitat while balancing the need for hydropower production. The environmental and economic goals of the project include restoring self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, maintaining hydropower resources, renewing opportunities for the Penobscot Indian Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights, and avoiding future uncertainties over regulation of the river.
Partners for Restoration
An unprecedented array of partners has come together to accomplish these goals. The Penobscot River Restoration Trust is a nonprofit organization made up of the Penobscot Indian Nation and six environmental groups (American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited). The Trust is working with a variety of state and federal agencies to implement the restoration project.
As a member of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the Conservancy is working to raise public and private funds for dam purchase, removal and bypass. Conservancy staff are also taking a leading role on the Trust's science team, which is charged with organizing research and monitoring efforts around the project. Researchers and conservationists around the country consider this project a model for other river restoration efforts, so it is important to fully understand and study the impacts of dam removal and bypass.