May 13, 2021 (Augusta, ME) — Three conservation groups have announced they intend to sue the international energy giant Brookfield Renewable Partners (Brookfield) for repeated violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Maine’s Kennebec River.
Brookfield’s four dams located between Waterville and Skowhegan are threatening the survival of endangered Atlantic salmon, according to a notice of intent to sue (NOI) letter filed by the Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Brookfield’s authorization to “take” Atlantic salmon trying to pass upstream and downstream through the dams expired in 2019, and since that time the company has continued to kill fish, in clear violation of the ESA.
“Today, Atlantic salmon in the United States are on the edge of extinction, and their continued survival in the United States depends on further restoration of a free-flowing Kennebec more than any other river,” said Natural Resources Council of Maine Staff Scientist Nick Bennett.
The Kennebec was once the most productive river in Maine for sea-run fish, with Atlantic salmon runs in the hundreds of thousands. They remain important to the culture and livelihood of the region’s native Wabanaki tribes. Nicknamed “the Leaper,” Atlantic salmon spend the majority of their lifetime in the ocean and are capable of swimming dozens of miles inland to spawn in the same freshwater stream where they were born. In 2020, only 51 salmon made it past the first of Brookfield’s four dams.
Removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax Dams has resulted in a dramatic recovery of the Kennebec River, including a huge increase in fish and wildlife. Further progress has stalled because Brookfield’s Lockwood, Hydro-Kennebec, Shawmut, and Weston Dams block adult Atlantic salmon from reaching critical spawning and rearing habitat in the Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec River. Warm temperatures and predation in the stagnant bodies of water behind the dams (called impoundments) are among the likely killers of young salmon (smolts) as they try to return to the ocean. The dams also harm populations of other sea-run fish species, such as river herring, that are crucial bait for the state’s lobster industry and needed to restore healthy populations of groundfish in the Gulf of Maine.
“We have seen years of inaction and delay that have blocked meaningful restoration of Maine’s second largest watershed,” said Maine Rivers Executive Director Landis Hudson. “Sustained efforts by state and federal agencies have not been successful. It’s a shocking situation that needs to be directly addressed.”
State and federal agencies have already called out Brookfield’s negligence. In July 2020, the federal government rejected Brookfield’s proposed Species Protection Plan (SPP) for Atlantic salmon. At the beginning of 2020, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) both opposed Brookfield’s relicensing application for the Shawmut Dam and recommended removing it. In addition, DMR and NMFS have both told Brookfield for years that the fish lift at the Lockwood Dam does not pass either salmon or American shad effectively, but Brookfield has done nothing to remedy the problem.
“Enough is enough,” said Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice President and Director of Conservation Law Foundation Maine. “Brookfield’s unwillingness to do the right thing on the Kennebec is unacceptable. The company is violating the Endangered Species Act and destroying the progress Maine and federal agencies have made in restoring the critical habitat necessary for the survival of Atlantic salmon and other valuable fish.”
Brookfield’s four dams generate an insignificant amount of hydroelectric power, and the damage they cause to the Kennebec’s ecosystem far outweighs their limited benefits. The dams represent only 6% of Maine’s overall hydroelectric capacity and are increasingly unnecessary as the state accelerates the transition to solar and wind power. The growth in solar energy generation alone is expected to dwarf the capacity provided by the four dams by about five to one in the next five years.
On May 26, 2021, the Atlantic Salmon Federation joined CLF, Maine Rivers, and NRCM submitting a Notice of Intent to sue Brookfield Renewable Partners under the United States’ Endangered Species Act.
For additional background information on Kennebec River restoration:
- Webpage – “Restoring the Kennebec above Waterville” https://www.nrcm.org/programs/waters/kennebec-restoration/restoring-kennebec-river/
- Perspective – “Wabanaki perspective on Kennebec River damming” by Mali Obomsawin https://dailybulldog.com/features/wabanaki-perspective-on-kennebec-river-damming/
- Video – “Saving Atlantic Salmon on the Kennebec” (pre-recorded webinar) https://youtu.be/KJjZV7H3W_Q
- Audio – “Saving salmon by restoring Maine’s Kennebec River” (podcast episode) https://soundcloud.com/nrcmenvironment/48-april-22-2021