Maine’s Kennebec Valley Chapter Receives Highest Award for Edwards Dam Efforts
8/25/1999 — — The Kennebec Valley (Maine) Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter led by Palmyra, ME President- Bruce Bowman and boasting over 250 local members drew high praise and recognition from the 100,000 plus membership of America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. The Kennebec Chapter was selected from over 500 TU chapters nationally to receive the highest honor bestowed, the Golden Trout award, based on the local chapter’s 12-year struggle to educate local, state and federal officials on the conservation benefits of removing the 162 year old Edwards dam. The announcement and presentation occurred at TU’s 1999 National Convention in Copper Mountain, Colorado which wrapped up on Sunday, August 22nd.
“The Kennebec Valley Chapter of Augusta, ME. was instrumental in the removal of the Edwards dam from the Kennebec River,” stated Charles Gauvin, President of Trout. “As a member of the Kennebec Coalition, Trout Unlimited’s Kennebec Valley Chapter was among the first to recognize the potential for restoring the Kennebec River, and we must all be prepared to be here for the long haul to finish the hard work of true river restoration. Clearly, the chapter’s leadership and success on the Edwards Dam removal illustrates what a few concerned individuals can do when they reach out to a community. I am proud to highlight the removal of the Edwards Dam as one of TU’s most significant conservation accomplishments in 1999.”
“This effort began when Chapter President Peter Thompson and member Jim Thibideau went fishing in Augusta,” stated TU (New England) National Resource Board Director, Sean McCormick. “Thompson looked at Thibideau and said, ‘We should get rid of that dam.’ From that small beginning, 12 years ago, we have worked hard to make the Edwards Dam removal happen!”
Fish restoration efforts on the Kennebec River took a historic step forward as the Edwards Dam was breached on July 1, 1999 and the river ran free for the first time in 162 years. The Kennebec is the largest river in the United States ever to benefit from a dam removal and Edwards Dam is among the largest dams ever removed in the nation.
The Edwards Dam removal came as the result of a precedent-setting 1997 decision by the maderal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruling that the environmental and economic benefits of a free-flowing Kennebec are greater than the economic benefits of continued operation of the Edwards Dam hydroelectric project. FERC denied the relicensing request in 1997 and ordered the dam removed.
The Edwards Dam, built in 1837, decimated fish populations by flooding critical habitat and preventing fish that migrate from the ocean from reaching prime upstream spawning grounds. Removal of the Edwards Dam opens up 17 miles of spawning and nursery habitat for fish in the Kennebec. The environmental benefits of the dam’s removal to life throughout the river to the Merrymeeting Bay – the largest freshwater tidal complex in the US north of the Chesapeake Bay – are expected to be enormous.
Removal of the Edwards Dam also is expected to result in substantial economic benefits to businesses and communities along the Kennebec, particularly due to increased sport fishing, recreational boating, and tourism.
Funding for the dam removal and other fish restoration activities was provided by Bath Iron Works and the Kennebec Hydro Developers group, a coalition of dam operators upstream of the Edwards Dam, pursuant to a May 1998 settlement agreement.
Edwards Dam, built to provide mechanical power to saw mills, helped fuel the economic growth of the Augusta area. But when the mills closed and other power sources were built, the Edwards Dam no longer produced a significant amount of power. Before its turbines were shut down in January 1999, the dam generated only one-tenth of one percent of the Maine’s electrical power.
Removal of the Edwards Dam represents a significant event in the history of dams in the United States. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has catalogued 75,000 dams greater than five feet tall along waterways in the United States. Thousands of smaller dams pepper the nation’s rivers. Maine has approximately 1,500 dams, with 190 in the Kennebec Watershed alone.
While dams can benefit society by providing power generation, flood control, improved navigation, and water supplies for irrigation, they also cause considerable harm to rivers – damaging or blocking fish habitat, flooding wildlife habitat, and degrading water quality. In a growing number of communities across the United States, people are discussing whether the benefits of removing specific dams might be greater than the benefits of leaving those dams in place.
Populations of 10 species of migratory fish in the Kennebec are expected to benefit as a result of the Edwards Dam removal. These include American shad, Atlantic salmon, striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon, short-nosed sturgeon, blueback herring, and alewives. Populations will not rebound overnight, but rather are expected to gain steadily over the next 20 years. Recovery rates for each individual species will depend on its own unique lifecycle, the emergence of other threats (e.g. over-fishing and predators), and the extent to which funding is provided for a variety of fisheries restoration projects designed to take advantage of the new spawning habitat created through the removal of the dam.
Attention Editors: Color photos of award presentation are available by contacting Maggie Lockwood at 703/ 284-9425