How Long Does It Take to Remove a Dam?


Veazie Dam Breach | Cheryl Daigle,  Penobscot River Restoration Trust Veazie Dam Breach | Cheryl Daigle, Penobscot River Restoration Trust

We are often asked how long it takes to remove a dam. The answer is: it depends on the project. Project complexity, cost, and the regulatory environment all can play a role in the duration of a project. Sometimes even a great project can become stalled for lack of funding, or discovery of something previously unknown that requires changes to the design.

Most dam removal projects are completed within 1 to 5 years, but some can take ten years or more to complete. The best part is that the benefits are forever, so it’s worth the twists and turns that a project can take.

Check out these examples:

Penobscot River, Maine— 10+ years

Great Works Dam Removal Cheryl Daigle, Penobscot River Restoration Trust Great Works Dam Removal Cheryl Daigle, Penobscot River Restoration Trust

The Penobscot River Restoration officially began with the signing of a multi-party agreement in 2004. The Penobscot Trust purchased the Great Works, Veazie, and Howland Dams in 2010.

The Great Works Dam was removed in 2012, and Veazie Dam was removed in 2013. We hope to see the Howland by-pass constructed soon.

So that is a project 10 years in the making that will open 1000 miles of habitat for an important fishery.

Cold Brook, Massachusetts— 20 days

The Carding Mill Dam in Harwich, Massachusetts, likely set a record for dam removal. When engineers determined it was in a state of imminent collapse, partners received emergency permits and removed the dam ONLY 20 DAYS after the initial site visit.

Congratulations to the partners, Town of Harwich, Harwich Conservation Trust, and Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration! Check out this video and see the project in action.

Cox Creek/Willamette River, Oregon— 1 year

Cox Creek | Calapooia Watershed Council Cox Creek | Calapooia Watershed Council

Cox Creek Dam was removed in Summer 2013 after a year-long landowner outreach and permitting process. The project was implemented to benefit floodplain processes, provide improved conditions for native salmon, and increase access to off-channel winter habitat.

It all comes down to the individual project and the many small (or sometimes not so small) factors that can influence its completion.  Are there any river restoration projects that surprised you by either being longer or shorter than you expected them to be?  Share your experiences below!

This blog is a part of our series this month on River Restoration Challenges.  Check out  Serena’s Autopsy of a Dam Removal and Lisa’s List of 7 Challenges That Can Delay River Restoration Projects for more.