Freeing the Musky: Observations Following Dam Removal on the Musconetcong River, NJ

Musky Pebble Count | Musconetcong Watershed Association
Musky Pebble Count | Musconetcong Watershed Association

Earlier this summer, I spent a day working in the cool, shallow water of the Musconetcong River. The Musky, as it’s known locally, drains 158 square miles of rural New Jersey and is a major tributary of the Delaware River. Over the last several years, American Rivers has been working closely with a group of partners – including environmental non-profits, state and federal resource agencies, and private landowners – to “Free the Musky” by removing numerous outdated, low-head dams that impede the movement of resident and migratory fishes, reduce habitat quality and availability, contribute to streambank erosion, and pose a threat to recreational paddlers.

So far, the Lower Musconetcong River Restoration Partnership, working under the leadership of the Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA), has successfully removed four dams: Gruendyke Mill Dam (2008), Seber Dam (2009), Riegelsville Dam (2011), and Finesville Dam (2011).

With plans for additional projects in the future, our group is interested in understanding how dam removal is impacting the river and how we might use this information to inform future projects. I worked with the MWA’s Monitoring Coordinator, Nancy Lawler, to develop a monitoring plan, and we recently spent the day with a small team of volunteers assessing post-removal substrate characteristics in a stretch of river that was previously inundated by the Finesville Dam. I led our team in conducting Wolman pebble counts— a method that consists of randomly selecting and measuring hundreds of pebbles within the study reach to determine the composition of the riverbed. The work is simple, but yields important data that allows us to inexpensively track changes following the removal of a dam.

We are beginning to observe coarser bed material as finer particles, like silts and sand, are slowly flushed out of the system. These changes to streambed habitat may also lead to shifts in macroinvertebrate community composition— another factor that we are monitoring as part of the dam removal effort.

While standing in the river on that hot July day, I was reminded how quickly dam removal can positively affect a river. Dam removal immediately eliminates an obsolete structure and often leads to rapid, visible improvements in stream habitat quality and availability.

4 Responses to “Freeing the Musky: Observations Following Dam Removal on the Musconetcong River, NJ”

Francis Scheuer

Continuing GOOD NEWS fosters more interest and involvment. Freedom is an important concept to AMERICANS. Freed-up RIVERS stimulate that quality.

Beth Styler Barry, Exec. Dir, Musconetcong Watershed Association

Laura, Thanks for getting out there and rolling up your sleeves – uh, your pant legs! The Finesville Dam removal has been a great project and American Rivers has been a part of it from the very beginning. We believe that the data we’re collecting will help us all to better understand the way that rivers recover from hundreds of years of impoundment.


These projects are a great example of lots of diverse and varied groups coming together for a common goal. In the case of the Musky we are not just trying to stave off more damage, but undo hundreds of years of abuse. It really is amazing how quickly the river becomes a river after being freed from all those years as a pond.