Dam Debate Part 1 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held public meetings this summer to discuss ways owners of dams can comply with new federal laws aimed at recovering endangered Atlantic Salmon.Two possible solutions are the removal of dams or the installation of fishways.Some think groups like NOAA are only concerned with reintroducing fish to the rivers of Maine and not with any other impact that may arise..But, those in charge of these projects say they take into account a number of factors, including the environment, and the dam owners, those who live on and use those waterways.”Maintenance costs can be a big factor, fish communities obviously a factor that we’re very concerned with, water levels for camp owners and things” said Rory Saunders a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fish Resource. “There are a variety of issues that have to be taken into account, not just the fish.”There are many groups and organizations interested in making it easier for fish to return to rivers and streams that are blocked by dams, and sometimes they support the removal of dams. Other times a fish passage way is put in, but their goal is always the same.”The Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s goal is to restore fisheries not to remove dams” said Laura Rose Day a member of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. “Dam removal is a tool to do that, so dam removal of this dam and Veazie were deemed by biologists to be necessary to achieve that goal and up in Howland, we’re proposing to build a fish bypass because dam removal isn’t necessary there to achieve the goal.”They know not every dam can or should be removed. Their priority is to get the main tributaries to the ocean, like the Penobscot, open once again to sea run fish so they can return to centuries old spawning grounds, said Saunders. “What we’re trying to do is take a pretty targeted approach and look at what different habitat types are impeded by which fish passage problems, which dams and which culverts and try to be strategic to target those that open the most habitat because there’s a tremendous number of problems from the fish passage perspective across the landscape. Not enough money to fix em all, so we’re trying to be really targeted with the resources we do have.””We’ve done eleven of these projects in the last seven or eight years. Half of them have been dam removals and half of them have been building fishways, and right now we’re looking at a couple of ponds above here to put fishways in as well, and in this drainage, it seems that building fishways is the appropriate way to go.”Before any work is actually done, a feasibility study is completed, and people, like camp owners up or down stream from the site, are contacted and questions are answered. It’s a process that can take years.”It really depends,” said Andrew Goode VP of US Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “Does the dam have any functional use, does it have any economic use or social use? You know, if not then, dam removal is an option because over time these dams can be a liability to the land owner.”In some cases, like the removal of the Veazie dam and the Great Works Dam in Old Town, power production is going to be lost and many are concerned with the restoration of fish versus the generation of power for us. That does get considered when determining if a dam can be removed or has to be kept in place and a fish passage installed.”Had this dam been part of the future of hydro production, that would have had to have happened,” said Day. “Instead, what’s happening is hydro power will be produced at other locations within the river system, particularly on the Stillwater River, so the main stem will be opened up entirely up to Milford and the energy generation will be basically reconfigured so when the project is over, we’ll not only restore fisheries but we’ll also have the same amount and potentially a bit more energy production on the system.”Coming up in our next hour, we’ll take a look at three dams in this area. One was removed, one is scheduled to be removed, and the third was kept in place, but a fishway was installed.It’s not just the Atlantic Salmon these projects are hoping to help there are other of species of fish being helped.