Kennebec River's recovery benefits wildlife, people and communities
6/29/2000 -- -- June 29, 2000. Augusta, ME. Today, people across Maine and the nation celebrate the one year anniversary of the precedent-setting removal of Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River which has brought native fish species back up the river to spawn and reinvigorated local economies and ecosystems.
A year later, it is apparent that removing the dam set in motion the restoration of a critical stretch of the Kennebec River. Migratory fish have traveled from the sea past the old Edwards Dam site to Winslow for the first time in 162 years, including an estimated two million alewives as well as striped bass, shad, sturgeon and Atlantic salmon.
Among benefits seen a year after the removal is an improvement in the water quality above where the dam once stood. This river section now meets Maine's Class B water quality standard. Before removal, these waters failed to meet minimum Class C water quality standards to support a healthy river ecosystem.
Citizens of the region are enjoying the river in growing numbers. Boaters, anglers, and birdwatchers are regular visitors to the newly exposed rapids and islands of the Kennebec.
Communities and businesses, too, are being reborn along the river. Augusta has formed a Capital Riverfront Improvement District (CRID) to protect the scenic character of the river, provide public access and bring economic development to the area.
"I see the removal of the dam, the restoration of the river and the resulting Capital Riverfront Improvement Distinct as a catalyst for all kinds of activities. People are turning their faces to the river and seeing the opportunities to optimize the use of its resources" said Delaine Nye, citizen appointee to the CRID.
Guide services and local business are looking forward to a good year on the river. Not only has the removal of Edwards dam started a process of rebirth along the Kennebec River, but the July 1, 1999 removal also set an important national precedent for river restoration above hydropower dams and sparked an interest nationwide in removing dams that no longer make sense. In the past year over 25 small dams have been removed across the country, and at least 18 more are slated for removal this summer.
In addition, the Edwards removal set an important national precedent for restoring rivers through removal of hydropower dams. The Edwards removal marked the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled the environmental benefits of dam removal outweighed the economic benefits of continued operation.
"A year ago, I saw a river being given a new lease on life," said Steve Brooke of American Rivers. "Over the past year I have watched as the river has begun to restore itself and the fish and wildlife are beginning to return."
"The single best act we can do for dwindling Atlantic salmon populations is to allow them access to their historical habitat, the removal of the Edwards Dam is a giant step in the right direction," said Andy Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
"We knew that people and wildlife would benefit from the dam's removal, but we never suspected the river would rebound this quickly!" said Laura Rose Day, Watershed Project Leader for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "I feel lucky to live and work along the Kennebec and to watch this rebirth first hand-osprey and anglers enjoying the rebounding fish migrations, paddlers and community festivals all focused on the new Kennebec River!"
"The renewed health of the Kennebec River confirms a simple, but powerful, idea: that dams whose costs outweighed their benefits should be removed," stated TU President Charles Gauvin. "Not only is the river's rebound a victory for the fish, but it's a victory for all of us who use and enjoy healthy rivers."
"The improvements in water quality measured by the diversity and abundance of aquatic organisms is very encouraging," said Betsy Ham, Coordinator for the Kennebec Coalition. "Studies by the Department of Environmental Protection show that aquatic organisms have increased in numbers by as much as 50 times and doubled in diversity."
The removal of Edwards dam was the result of a decade-long effort by the Kennebec Coalition (American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter), and an innovative agreement forged by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal and state natural resource agencies, City of Augusta, State of Maine, and the dam owner.
For more Kennebec information and a photo gallery from American Rivers, click here.