Letting Rivers Run

With your support, The Nature Conservancy partners with business, government, local communities and others to remove outdated dams and create fish passage under roads and at dams that are still providing necessary services. Click on the image above to see the fish passage at StanChem Dam under construction.

Rivers are the lifeblood of New England — powering our historical manufacturing industries, feeding our priceless commercial fisheries and shaping our communities.

But for every hundred miles of stream that flow through our states, an average of seven dams and 106 roads interrupt the progress of millions of migratory fish that once used these rivers as superhighways.

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Since these dams were built (some more than 200 years ago), salmon, eels, sturgeon and river herring have all suffered population declines so precipitous that they’ve been listed or proposed for federal endangered species protection.

Connecticut is home to more than 5,000 dams, many of which are privately owned. A key focus of dam removal in the Nutmeg State is working with residential landowners to educate them about the danger of deteriorating dams and the benefits of removing dams that no longer serve their historical purpose.

2012 was a landmark year for removing dams and restoring rivers to their natural states. With your support, we can continue to heal New England’s waterways.

50 Miles of New Habitat on the  Mattabesset River

While our primary goal, dam removal isn’t always possible. For example, in the case of the StanChem Dam on the Mattabesset River, landowners use the reservoir created by the dam for emergency fire suppression.

Instead of removing the dam, Sally Harold, the Conservancy’s director of migratory fish projects, is working with StanChem to install a fish ladder that, starting this fall, will allow shad and herring to bypass the structure.

The StanChem project is unique not only for its impact — opening 50 miles of prime upstream habitat — but also for its long history, which has spanned 10 years of working with multiple landowners and partner agencies.

Among other dam-removal projects in New England:

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.


Great Works Dam, Old town , ME — This summer saw removal of this first dam in the larger Penobscot River Restoration Project, which will help return tens of thousands of migrating alewives, eels and salmon to Maine’s largest watershed.

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.


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