People and wildlife have benefited from river’s recovery
Augusta, ME – State, federal and local officials and conservation leaders gathered on the bank of the Kennebec River today to celebrate one of our nation’s most significant and successful river restoration projects. Ten years ago, the 160-year-old Edwards Dam was removed to restore a free-flowing Kennebec River. Its removal marked the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that the ecological value of a free-flowing river was greater than the economic value of a dam, and ordered the dam removed.
Today, the river has come back to life. It has become a draw for local residents and businesses. Boaters, anglers, and birdwatchers are regular visitors to the restored rapids and islands of the Kennebec, as well as the walking trails, riverfront docks, parks, and boat launches.
This year, two million alewives returned to the Kennebec— perhaps the largest migration on the eastern seaboard. The entire web of life – from eagles to osprey to bear – are benefiting from a healthier river.
“The Kennebec River has come to life magnificently over the past ten years, just as we knew it would if given a chance,” said Brownie Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Evidence of the river’s rebirth is everywhere along and in the river north of Augusta. Eagles, osprey, and sturgeon are spotted daily; seals have been seen chasing striped bass as far inland as Waterville; and this spring the river hosted the largest alewife run on the East coast. The Kennebec’s revival has been a true wonder of nature.”
“It is a recurring pleasure to admit I was wrong,” said George Viles, who owns a riverside property in Sidney and initially opposed the Edwards dam’s removal. “A paddle on the ‘new’ river is part of the basic tour package for visitors from away. It is great to share the sights, sounds, smells and action of our river.”
“The breaching of the dam is leading to so many wonderful consequences for our community,” said Augusta Mayor Roger Katz. “From the Mill Park with its canoe and kayak launch and new pavillion, to the looming Arsenal project to our expected development of the old paper mill site, we are finally returning our focus to the river. I think the eagles, osprey and sturgeon appreciate it, too.”
“I am pleased to join with those who are celebrating the revival of the Kennebec River on the 10th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam,” said Maine Governor John Baldacci. “The Kennebec is one of Maine’s great rivers, and it is wonderful to see what progress we have made in cleaning up the river and restoring fish populations. Removal of the Edwards Dam was an important action to help sea run fish reach critical spawning habitat. My deep appreciation goes out to all the individuals, agencies, businesses, and organizations who were involved in achieving the removal of the Edwards Dam. You helped the Kennebec pass an important milestone in its recovery, in a way that will benefit the river the towns along the Kennebec for generations to come.”
“The Kennebec is a national river restoration success story,” says Rebecca Wodder of American Rivers. “It is an example of how people and wildlife thrive when a river is restored. Healthy rivers are vital to our health and quality of life, and the Kennebec will continue to be an inspiration to us all.”
“River herring are critical to several life stages of Atlantic salmon,” says Andrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. The impressive numbers of these fish now returning to the Kennebec bodes well for the continued restoration of Atlantic salmon in the river.”
“The recovery of sea-run fish has been astounding. I don’t think any of us imagined that we would have a thriving recreational shad fishery, the return of two town-managed commercial alewife fisheries, and even promising returns of Atlantic salmon within 10 years of the removal. The river has truly come back to life,” said Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited.
“Today isn’t an end point; in a way it is just the beginning,” says Steve Brooke of Farmingdale, who served as the coordinator of the original Kennebec Coalition. “Rivers change and evolve over time. The first 10 years has already surprised us. Some of the fish that benefit from the restored habitat are likely to surprise us in generations to come, such as Atlantic sturgeon that take 15 years to mature and can reproduce for more than 60 years.”
The dam removal was the result of a decade-long effort of the Kennebec Coalition, which included American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter, and an innovative agreement forged by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal and state natural resource agencies, the City of Augusta, State of Maine, and the dam owner.
Learn more about the 10th anniversary of the Edwards Dam removal.