Small Dams Tumble on MA Rivers

The frequency of dam removals on streams and rivers around Massachusetts and New England is picking up.

An example of one of the many old, small dams that remain on streams in the Neponset River Watershed.

An example of one of the many old, small dams that remain on streams in the Neponset River Watershed.

The removal of small dams from rivers around Massachusetts and New England has been in the news, pretty frequently, these days. For instance, you may just have read an article on the removal of the Whittenton Dam on the Mill River in Taunton, MA, or on the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in ME.

Dam removals have been increasing in frequency as a general understanding builds that old, deteriorating dams that no longer function for their original purpose (most were built in previous centuries to power mills) present liability and flooding hazards, are far more expensive to maintain and re-build than to remove, and threaten the future of New England fisheries.

These dam removals elicit passion and excitement in communities. When dams come down, towns experience physical and aesthetic changes to the landscape and also gain new and improved recreation options. A familiar waterway will revert to a more natural, historic shape and flow, which only people from the past may have known. Residents and river-users become accustomed to seeing different fish, wildlife and plant communities in stretches of the river from which these species may have been absent for decades and even centuries–i.e., since the dams were constructed. The structure of the dam is no longer part of the landscape, and neither is the mill pond that was associated with it. Recreation options widen and improve – people can paddle further up and down rivers, and fishing opportunities diversify.

Now, while dam removal may be an easy process to visualize, it also tends to be more complex and time-intensive to implement than one might expect. Gaining all the necessary permissions, completing the site studies, and acquiring funding can take a while–at least 2.5 to 3 years – and sometimes even 20! Fortunately, under review is a proposed regulatory change that would make the dam removal process simpler, less time-intensive, and less expensive.

The Neponset River Watershed Association continues to pursue small dam removals around the Watershed, with an eye toward restoring stream quality, wildlife habitat, and fish passage. We’re looking forward to implementing a more streamlined dam removal process, one of these days, soon, and to enjoying the community’s reaction to a freer-flowing waterway with a greater variety of wildlife and habitat and better water quality. Learn more about our small dam removal program.

Learn more about dam removal, in general – including the process of removing dams in Massachusetts.

Do you have a dam on your property that you’d like to remove? Other questions? Contact NepRWA Executive Director, Ian Cooke at 781-575-0354 x305 and cooke@neponset.org.

One response to “Small Dams Tumble on MA Rivers”

  1. […] she wrote last August, “When dams come down, towns experience physical and aesthetic changes to the […]

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