East Coast Dam Removals Continue To Open Up Blocked Rivers

American Rivers is playing a significant role in dam removal projects up and down the east coast. In 2013 alone, we removed over 40 dams in the United States. In the Northeast restoration is underway on the Penobscot River, the Mid-Atlantic is seeing the return of American shad on the Patapsco River, and the Southeast has restored habitat for over 7,000 shad in North Carolina Rivers.


Veazie Dam, Penobscot River, ME | © Penobscot River Restoration Trust

Veazie Dam Removal on the Penobscot River, ME | © Penobscot River Restoration Trust

In 2012 the Penobscot River Restoration Project began with the removal of Maine’s Great Works Dam. American Rivers is a founding member of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and serves an important role in raising funds and providing technical assistance. The project will open 1,000 miles of habitat for Atlantic salmon and other species. Now a second major stage has begun with the removal of Veazie Dam. This past July, a demolition crew began removing the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River just above Bangor, ME.

The Veazie is the lowest of the Penobscot dams and closest to the river’s mouth on the Maine coast. Thanks to the work of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (of which American Rivers is a founding member) and its partners, the lower river will be free-flowing once again and will allow migratory fish to work their way up from the sea.

The iconic species of the Penobscot is the Atlantic salmon, which used to run up the river to spawn in large numbers. While salmon spawning will require addition work on the upper Penobscot watershed, including new salmon passages at upstream dams, opening this lower river will immediately benefit other species, such as striped bass, herring, sturgeon and smelt.

Heading south, the Mill River in Massachusetts has benefited from recent dam removal projects. Eight years after a nearly tragic event brought public attention to this weak structure, Massachussetts’ Whittenton Dam on the Mill River has been removed, and the river is flowing freely through the former dam site. This removal is part of the larger Mill River Restoration that includes the removal of three dams and the instillation of a fishway at a fourth dam on this important Taunton River tributary. The project will allow migratory river herring to access an additional 30 miles of river habitat. Whittenton Dam is the second dam to be removed as a part of this project and follows last year’s removal of the Hopewell Mills Dam.

The Taunton River is one of the only free-flowing rivers in the Northeast, and restoring fish passage to a major tributary like the Mill River will provide significant benefits for the river’s herring run, one of the largest in the region. Hundreds of thousands of fish are expected to return to Narragansett Bay, where they are important food for striped bass. This spring, the first river herring in nearly 200 years was spotted upstream of the former Hopewell Mills dam site, making its way from Narragansett Bay to inland spawning areas.


Bloede Dam, Patapsco River, MD | © Chesapeake Bay Program

With a grant from NOAA, American Rivers is working to remove the Bloede Dam on the Patapsco River, MD | © Chesapeake Bay Program

American Rivers and partners removed two dams on the Patapsco River in Maryland, the Simpkins Dam in 2010 and the Union Dam in 2011. Since these dam removals, monitoring efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources has shown positive numbers of migratory fish returning to the river. Last year they even caught the first American shad seen in the Patapsco River in 20 years!

Continuing restoration efforts on the Patapsco, American Rivers was awarded a $3.57 million grant from NOAA Restoration Center to remove the Bloede Dam, the first dam on the river. The removal of Bloede Dam will restore habitat for key species such as blueback herring, alewife and American shad.


Smitherman's Dam removal, Little River, NC | credit Gerrit Jobsis

Removal of Smitherman’s Dam on the Little River, NC began in November 2014 | © Gerrit Jobsis

For more than four years now, American Rivers has actively been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove dams on North Carolina’s rivers. In November, the Smitherman’s Dam was removed on the Little River. This was the third dam to be removed in this area in the past two years. Earlier last summer, the Lassiter Mill Dam was removed on the Uwharrie River. As these rivers have time to recover, habitat for rare mussels will be reconnected and as well as other important species such as the American shad.

When dams are removed, rivers are able to return to their natural flows, and habitats for fish and wildlife begin to be restored. As we monitor rivers and streams after dam removals, we’ve seen the return of many important fish species such as striped bass, river herring, American shad, and hopefully one day Atlantic salmon. The impact of dam removal is immediate and extremely positive. 

To learn more about what you can do to support these important restoration projects, please visit our Anglers Fund page.