By Robert Shane
When we think of dams, especially dam removals, we think BIG; we think the Elwha and the Penobscot and the Snake. We imagine monstrosities of concrete and steel blocking important trout and salmon spawning waters. This plight, however, is not secular to big dams. In the state of Massachusetts there are over 3,000 dams that have separated native brook trout from their spawning beds and serve as impenetrable barriers to all fish passage.
That number, however, will fall by one at the end of this month, and reconnect 20 miles of eastern brook trout habitat that has been disconnected for more than a century. The Millie Turner Dam on the Nissitissit River stands roughly six feet tall and 100 feet wide and was thought to have been built in the mid-19th century to power a local mill. Through the hard work of the Squan-a-Tissit chapter and the Greater Boston Chapter, working directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Division of Ecological Restoration, the Nissitissit will finally flow unimpeded into the Nashua River, then the Merrimack River en route to the Gulf of Maine.
The total cost of the project is estimated to finish around $350,000 with the local TU chapters raising over $10,000 for the preliminary studies. The remaining funds came from grants secured by the DER. Along with restoring access to vital spawning waters for brook trout, the destruction of Millie Turner also helps protect the brook floater, an endangered species of mussel found in only a few remaining watersheds, the Nissitissit being one of them, and the American eel.
The breach calls for removal of roughly 90 percent of the existing dam, which sees water flow over the top for 10 months out of the year. In low flow times (as pictured above), however, the river is diverted around the dam through an artificial by-pass channel.
The Squan-a-Tissit chapter invites the rest of TU to join in their success by providing a live feed of the dam removal on the day of the breach. Until then, you can see time-lapse photos of the site up until the celebration on Sept. 22.
Robert Shane is a volunteer leader with TU’s Squan-a-Tissit Chapter in Massachusetts.