The 10th Anniversary of the Removal of Maine’s Edwards Dam

A Historic River Restoration Success

Ten years ago, on July 1, 1999, American Rivers and our partners celebrated a historic success when Edwards Dam was removed from the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine. The dam removal marked a turning point for river conservation in our country.  Since then, more than 600 outdated dams have been removed nationwide, and the number of recorded dam removals has grown each year.

Edwards was the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered a dam removed solely for ecological reasons. It is a national model for how a community can advocate for removal, how quickly a river can heal, and how local businesses and property owners, as well as fish and wildlife, can benefit from a restored river.

Share Your Stories and Photos of the Kennebec River

 Do you have any great memories of canoeing down the Kennebec?  Did you witness first hand how the river changed after the removal of Edwards Dam? Do you remember when the dam came down? 

We want to hear from you!

The Kennebec: A River Reborn

Edwards Dam severely impacted one of the richest and most varied fisheries in the country, and degraded the overall health of the Kennebec River. When the dam’s owner sought a new 30-year license from FERC in 1989, four environmental groups—American Rivers, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and Trout Unlimited’s Kennebec Valley Chapter—formed the “Kennebec Coalition” to intervene in the relicensing process and advocate for removal of the dam. Over the next several years the coalition worked successfully with the City of Augusta and state and federal resource agencies to persevere over multiple legal negotiations. In 1997, FERC decided to deny the relicensing application. This marked the first time that FERC had ever denied an application for relicensing and set a precedent for FERC’s authority to remove dams that pose greater harm than good.

The removal opened up 17 river miles, making the Kennebec a free-flowing river from the city of Waterville to the sea for the first time in more than 160 years. The river’s health rebounded quickly, revitalizing populations of migratory fish such as shad, sturgeon, Atlantic salmon, and striped bass.

Communities along the Kennebec are enjoying economic benefits through increased sales of kayaks, boats, and associated equipment, as well as food and lodging. The quality of life for people who reside along the Kennebec has also improved, as restoration of the river created an increasingly attractive place to work, fish, camp, hike, and live while enjoying the wonders of nature.

American Rivers at the Forefront of River Restoration

The Turner Foundation has written, “A few years ago, the notion of taking a dam out of a river seemed ridiculous.  American Rivers…helped move the idea from the laughable to the visionary to the pragmatic.” 

Since the removal of the Edwards Dam, 35 dams have been removed across New England. This summer, two more New England dams will likely join the list: the State Hospital Dam on the Mill River and two dams on Red Brook.  Both projects are in Massachusetts and are funded in part through the national partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Community-based Restoration Program and American Rivers.

Since 2001, American Rivers has partnered with NOAA to help communities around the country restore their local rivers by removing unnecessary dams. This program has provided over $3 million in financial assistance and priceless hours of technical assistance to more than 100 river restoration projects, including 29 projects throughout the New England states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  The program focuses on projects that benefit diadromous fish species, fish that migrate between freshwater and saltwater during their life cycle, such as alewife and Atlantic salmon. 

American Rivers was also instrumental in making the case for river restoration in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the economic stimulus bill).  As a result, the NOAA Restoration Center received $230 million, including $170 million for a competitive grant solicitation effort for river restoration projects.

American Rivers will continue to help communities remove outdated dams as a proven way to restore river health, improve public safety, save money, increase economic opportunities, and boost community resiliency to climate change. 

For more information, please contact Amy Kober at 503-827-8648.

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