Celebrating River Herring with Another Dam Removal in Plymouth


Plymouth dam removal | Amy Singler

Restored impoundment at Off-Billington Street is waiting for the growing season to green up | Amy Singler

The river herring are running in coastal New England and it’s a great time to be celebrating another dam removal on Town Brook in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I was really excited to be a part of the festivities on Town Brook, celebrating the completion of the Off-Billington Street Dam removal. As many times as I have walked Town Brook, today is my first time seeing the spring herring run. So this trip is a special one for me to see the river herring run from the mouth of Town Brook near Plymouth Rock 1.5 miles upstream to Billington Sea, a 269-acre pond that supports prime herring spawning habitat.

American Rivers has been proud to be a partner on the dam removals on Town Brook. The restoration of Town Brook began in 2002 with the removal of the Billington Street Dam just downstream of the most recent removal. That was at the start of the new movement to remove dams in Massachusetts. I remember seeing the souvenir bricks from the celebration event that read, “First for Marine Fish,” because it was the first coastal removal and only the second proactive dam removal in Massachusetts.

That project has propelled Massachusetts to where it is today, one of the leaders in dam removal. Since 2002, we have seen over 30 dams removed in Massachusetts, and there are dozens more in design or permitting, or even just waiting for this construction season. And if that doesn’t sound awesome enough, there have been over 1,100 dams removed nationally, and most of that in the last 20 years.

When we remove a dam like the ones on Town Brook we allow the river to heal itself. We see cleaner water and access to habitat for fish and wildlife. And in cases like this, we make the river safer for those who live near it with the replacement of the bridge. The Off-Billington Street Dam removal joins the previous projects on Town Brook to restore the path for the fish as they make their way upstream: the Billington Street Dam removal, the Water Street Weir lowering, as well as improvements to the Jenney Grist Mill and Newfield Street fishways and stormwater improvements along the brook.

It never gets old to see the natural flow restored to a river. And the fish come back. I am amazed every time that they keep coming back. These are decedents of fish that have been traveling these waters for centuries. And for the past 300 years, until that first dam came out in 2002, generations of those river herring had to navigate fishways or were lifted over 6 dams to get to the upstream lake for spawning; and they keep doing it. Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted just how amazing these fish really are.

Projects like the Off-Billing Dam removal and the upcoming Plymco Dam Removal upstream do not happen without an amazing amount of commitment from the dam owner and a supportive and thoughtful partnership of state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and skilled engineers and contractors. I will make a special note of the work of the Town of Plymouth and what a model they are for how to restore rivers. In addition to restoration of Town Brook they have worked to remove dams and restore a cranberry bog to a cold water stream on Eel River and removed small dams on Wellingsly Brook.

Congratulations to the Town of Plymouth for the success of this dam removal. And like the fish, we are happy to keep coming back and having these celebrations.

4 Responses to “Celebrating River Herring with Another Dam Removal in Plymouth”

John K

The Red Brook restoration in Southwest Plymouth continues with the rebuilding of Century bog to make fish passage easier to WhiteIsland Pond.

Bill Keohan

The upcoming Plymco Dam Removal and the Eel River restoration were made possible by the residents of Plymouth through Town Meeting and The Community Preservation Act.