River Flows Free As Edwards Dam Is Removed
Restoration of Kennebec River to Benefit Local Communities, Fish & Wildlife
7/1/1999 — — (Augusta, ME)-Fish restoration efforts on the Kennebec River took a historic step forward today as the Edwards Dam was breached 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.
Today’s action came as the result of a precedent-setting 1997 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 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.
“With removal of the Edwards Dam, the Kennebec River has been given a new lease on life,” said Steve Brooke, coordinator of the Kennebec Coalition-which includes American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter. The Kennebec Coalition was formed in 1989 with the goal of removing the Edwards Dam and restoring the Kennebec River.
“Removal of the Edwards Dam reflects a shift in how our society views rivers. The Edwards Dam decision is nationally significant because it shows us that dam removal is a very reasonable and feasible option for restoring healthy rivers and saving imperiled fish,” said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers. “In addition to the Edwards Dam, over a hundred small dams have been removed from rivers across the country over the past 20 years. The healthy rivers that have resulted demonstrate how removing dams that don’t make sense can be a successful restoration tool,” Wodder added.
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 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.
“This is a great day for the Kennebec River, the fish, Maine’s recreation economy, and everyone who appreciates a free-flowing river,” said Brownie Carson, executive director of Natural Resources Council of Maine. “As populations of fish soar, so too will the eagles, osprey, kingfishers, cormorants, and other wildlife that depend on a healthy river,” Carson added.
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.
“Today we raise a special salute to all of those people who played a role in this splendid accomplishment, especially the local conservationists who were the driving force behind it,” said Charles F. Gauvin, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “We look forward to the day when salmon, sturgeon and striped bass once again thrive in the Kennebec. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that removing Edwards Dam is only the first step in restoring the Kennebec and its fisheries. Members of Trout Unlimited’s Kennebec Valley Chapter were 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.”
“With the rebirth of the Kennebec we have the chance to bring back the Atlantic salmon, a fish that once thrived here,” said Bill Taylor, President of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Funding for the dam removal and other fish restoration activities is being 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 over night, 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 removal of the dam.
Contacts: Amy Souers, American Rivers: (202) 347-7550, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.amrivers.org Andy Goode, Atlantic Salmon Federation: email@example.com or www.asf.ca Judy Berk, Natural Resources Council of Maine: (207) 622-3101, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.nrcm.org Pete Rafle, Trout Unlimited: (703) 284-9412, email@example.com or www.tu.org
For more information:
Visit American Rivers at http://www.amrivers.org/edwardsremoval.html#details
Download A River Reborn: Benefits for People and Wildlife of the Kennebec River Following the Removal of Edwards Dam at http://www.tu.org/library/conservation.asp
Download the Trout Unlimited and American Rivers draft report on dam removal success stories at http://www.tu.org/library/conservation.asp