Environmental Benefits
Of Edwards Dam Removal

“The thing about the Kennebec is that it’s so diverse.  We saw uncountable numbers of brown trout, we caught alewives, as many small mouth bass as we wanted and an unbelievable number of stripers.  We also saw eagles and osprey.  With its gravel bars, ledges and waterfalls, the river is beautiful.” 

– Bob Dionne, Aardvark Outfitters

Migratory Fish are Returning

Alewives have returned to Waterville and Winslow, 18 miles upstream from the former Edwards Dam. State fisheries biologists estimate the number of alewives below Waterville to be nearly two million.

Because the migration of alewives is blocked by upstream dams on the main stem of the Kennebec at Waterville and on a major tributary of the Kennebec the Sebasticook at Fort Halifax in Winslow, they can not yet swim to upstream ponds to spawn again.  As a temporary measure they are trapped using a suction pump in Winslow at the Fort Halifax dam and trucked to their native ponds.  Permanent fish passage must be provided at Fort Halifax in 2003 and temporary fish passage must be provide at Lockwood on the Kennebec by 2006.  This year the Department of Marine Resources and Florida Power and Light have pumped over 130,000 alewives at Fort Halifax (last year at Edwards 80,000 alewives were tramped, trucked and released).

Striped bass, a fisherman’s favorite, were caught in Waterville last fall and have returned again this spring. 

American shad have been caught in Waterville this spring, another first. Shad will be trapped and trucked to a hatchery in Maine, which is working to maximize shad production for release back into the river. Young shad will released into the river to help restore the species to historic levels.

 

Wildlife Benefits

 Alewife floaters, a fresh water mussel, know that alewives are passing and release their spawn that the alewives carry up river attached to their gills.

  Bald eagles, osprey, blue herons and cormorants have been observed catching fish all along the river.    

 

Water Quality has Significantly Improved

  From below Class C to Class B.  Before Edwards Dam was removed, the impoundment above the dam could not meet the minimum water quality standards and could not begin to support a healthy river ecosystem.  Last fall with the removal of Edwards dam the quality improved dramatically to meet the higher standard of class B.  The river has been officially reclassified to class B to reflect the improvement in river health.

  The Canaries of the River Return in Force.  Bottom dwelling organisms are used by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to gauge the health of a river.  When the counts of these organisms are low it indicates that the ecosystem itself is suffering, just as a dying canary used to indicate that the coal mine environment was unhealthy.  Before the Edwards removal the counts were so low that there were barely enough organisms to perform an analysis (40-50 organisms per sample).  In September the count was already up to nearly 2000 organisms or nearly 50 times the numbers that existed before the dam.

  Fish and Anglers alike will welcome the dramatic increase in Mayflies and Stoneflies.  Both species, rarely seen in samples before the removal of Edwards, have dramatically increased in numbers.  Not only have the numbers of organisms increased but also the diversity of organisms has doubled.

 

Recreational Opportunities Abound

  Boaters and anglers have returned to the area in large numbers.  Last summer the newly restored river was used extensively by the public to fish, canoe, birdwatch, and generally enjoy the river.

  Riverbanks are greening with native grasses, shrubs and other vegetation. Many people feared that muddy banks, exposed by lower water levels after the dam removal, would be unsightly and deter recreational use.  Instead, natural vegetation grew back on the banks quite rapidly, making a boat trip down the river quite scenic and providing habitat for birds, small mammals and other wildlife.

  Boaters enjoy a new boat launch at Sidney, which the State rebuilt to meet the new needs of river users and is open for business. The river is still available for recreational use during the spring, summer and fall.

  More natural water levels have revealed rapids, such as Six-Mile Falls, and many small islands have reappeared.  These features, buried for 160 years and known only in the history books, make the trip down the river varied and interesting.  They also provide varied habitat for fish, who utilize new channels, riffles and pools, and water birds that search the island habitat that has emerged for food.  

 

Communities are Being Reborn Along With the River

  In Augusta a Capital Riverfront Improvement District was formed by legislative act to “protect the scenic character of the Kennebec River corridor while providing continued public access and an opportunity for community and economic development..."

  Plans for a park where Edwards mill once stood are well under way. Current proposals envision the Edwards mill site as a passive recreational park.  The park will honor the history of the site while celebrating the rebirth of the river.

  Cities along the Kennebec are planning new river celebrations and renewing old ones.

The first Voice of the Kennebec festival is planned for early June in Waterville, with food, paddles and bike trips along the river.

The Whatever Celebration in Augusta, is a sometimes tradition on the Kennebec that will make a special effort to celebrate the river this year. “To help share in the celebration of the opening of the Kennebec we would like to invite you to canoe or kayak with us on July 2nd from Fort Halifax to Fort Western,” said Jay Adams Fort Western’s Director and Curator. Anyone that arrives by boat to Fort Western that day will get in for free.

  Guide services and local businesses are looking forward to a good year on the river. Jim Thibodeau, a registered Maine Guide from Waterville, said, “I am looking forward to a great summer season fishing this section of the Kennebec.”

With progress being made on almost every front, it has been an extremely positive year for the Kennebec.  Why not get out and see the progress for yourself!

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