Revisiting the Removal of an Old Dam

In July 2012, staff from the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) came upon an old, deadbeat dam on the Wells River in Groton, VT.  After consulting with Ben Copans of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and Len Gerardi of the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DF&W), CRWC began meeting with the dam owner (Vermont Agency of Transportation), town officials and neighbors.  In 2013, CRWC received a grant from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund (MEF) for the engineering design, which was completed that winter.  “The removal of the breached Franconia Paper Company Dam was a great river restoration project,” said project engineer Roy Schiff of Milone & MacBroom. “Unsafe and obsolete concrete walls were taken out of a river that will improve safety, local trout fishing, and aesthetics.  The bedrock falls that stabilize the river bed limited the challenges of the project so deconstruction and removal proceeded smoothly.  We knew some bedrock was around while the dam was still in place, but it was nice to see the beautiful falls and ledges exposed after the dam came out.”


Before the dam is removed, looking upstream from the dam. Photo credit: Ron Rhodes, CRWC

Permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers and DEC (Stream Alteration permit) were obtained in 2014 along with clearance from the State Historic Preservation Office.  CRWC continued writing grants and fundraising to fund removal activities.  Thanks to another grant from MEF, a 2014 Vermont Watershed grant, funding from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Patagonia, CRWC was able to hire a local contractor to begin dam removal in the summer 2014.  One week and 60 truck loads of concrete and debris later, the Wells River was flowing freely for the first time in 100 years.  Native brook trout and other aquatic species were now free to swim upstream.  CRWC River Steward Ron Rhodes notes that the removal reduced the 100 year flood elevation level by 7 feet; an important factor given the close proximity to State Route 302.

According to Madeline Lyttle, Fisheries Biologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, “the Franconia Dam removal project was an excellent example of multi-agencies and local communities working together to restore the upper Wells River. Our focuses were different and our goals varied.  Yet all were satisfied by removing a dangerous, obsolete structure. Teamwork at its finest and the environment benefits!”

In 2015, CRWC and partners duplicated their efforts and removed another old, deadbeat dam on the Wells River just a few miles downstream.  In total, both removal projects have been responsible for opening up 34 miles of cold water habitat for thermal refuge and spawning on the upper Wells River.