Columbia Dam

Return of a River

New Jersey Herald Interview

Barbara Brummer, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey, talks about the removal of the Columbia Dam.

Watch the Video

The Paulins Kill, an important Delaware River tributary in New Jersey, has significant stretches where water temperatures are too warm for aquatic animals, and erosion and sedimentation create additional problems for wildlife. The Nature Conservancy is working together with local partners to improve the health of the river so that it will provide safe recreational resources throughout its entire length and high-quality habitat for native and migratory fish.


Planting trees on the areas around the riverbanks is one strategy we are using to improve water quality in the Paulins Kill. We are in the process of reconnecting many miles of forested floodplains, and, with the support of local landowners and residents, have planted more than 40,000 trees to date. Those trees provide shade to cool water and alleviate sediment runoff with their root systems—which benefits native fish that live in the river, and in turn the enthusiasts who fish there.

Reconnecting Historic Spawning Grounds

Dams on the Paulins Kill impede important migratory fish like American shad from reaching historic spawning grounds, as well as slow the river’s flow, creating unhealthy, stagnating ponds.

The top offender in this regard is the Columbia Dam, located near the rivers’ junction with the Delaware.

For more than 100 years, this 18-foot high barrier has stopped migratory American shad swimming in from the Delaware River to spawn in the Paulins Kill’s calm waters. In fact, its effects were so negative that it was ranked in the top 5% of all dams prioritized for removal on the East Coast in an analysis by The Nature Conservancy and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The good news is that in July of 2018, The Nature Conservancy and many partners began deconstruction of the Columbia Dam, a process that will take several months. However, just beginning to lower the water in the impoundment behind the dam over the month of June, the Paulins Kill in that area already shows signs of returning to the natural riverscape it once was. With the Columbia Dam gone, the river will once more allow free passage of fish—as well as kayakers—between the Delaware and the Paulins Kill.

Clean Energy, Too

The Columbia Dam was constructed in the early 1900’s for the purposes of ice harvesting and power generation for the towns of Columbia, NJ and Stroudsburg, PA. Over time its role in both became greatly diminished. However, The Nature Conservancy wanted to replace the clean energy that would be lost by the dam’s removal, and found a creative way to do just that. We partnered with the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife to design solar panels to be installed over the nearby state trout hatchery, which has been struggling to protect young fish from a bacterial disease spread by predatory birds. These solar panels will act as a buffer to protect the young trout, while simultaneously generating clean energy exceeding that of the dam.

Removing the dam and restoring the natural river habitat will result in a domino effect of benefits, for shad, trout and other wildlife, and for people, who will have enhanced hiking, fishing, and boating access—without losing a single watt of clean energy generation.



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