Mill River returned to its streambed as Whittenton Dam removed
Demolition of the Whittenton Dam began on July 19 with the sound of heavy machinery in the air as state Sen. Marc Pacheco manned an excavator kicking off the removal. A little more than two weeks later, the Mill River was released back into its original channel flowing freely through this stretch of river for the first time in 170 years.
In 2005, this dam made national news, when a portion of downtown Taunton was evacuated and a state of emergency declared, following heavy rains. Thousands of people were driven from their homes, with schools and businesses closed for several days, after the wooden Whittenton Dam buckled and threatened to send a four-foot wall of water through this city.
Whittenton Dam is the second dam to be removed as a part of the Mill River Restoration, a project that includes the removal of three dams and the instillation of a fishway at a fourth dam on this important Taunton River tributary. When the entire restoration is complete, it will allow migratory species like river herring and American eel to access an additional 30 miles of river habitat as well as upstream lakes and ponds.
Last summer and fall, the Hopewell Mills Dam, located just downstream from the Whittenton Dam, was removed and already, sea-run fish like river herring, are returning to the watershed. 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.
In the coming weeks, restoration will continue at the Whittenton site as stream banks are rebuilt and plantings are completed. You can follow along on the Mill River Restoration blog and the American Rivers Facebook page.